Coronavirus News: New Jersey schools gear up to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies in July

NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- The class of 2020 in New Jersey got some good news earlier this week when Governor Phil Murphy said outdoor graduation ceremonies would be permitted starting July 6, but many school administrators are anxiously awaiting further guidance.

At Cedar Grove High School, Principal Rick Mangili put up pictures of his 120 graduates and had a virtual ceremony that included them picking up their caps and gowns.

The smiles on the seniors' faces was heartwarming, as they drove through the parking lot with music playing to cheers.

"The smiles were ear to ear," Mangili said. "It was great to see. They needed that."

Murphy announced he would allow the graduations provided full safety guidelines were in place, including:
--Must take place on or after July 6, 2020;
--Must take place outdoors or be drive-in/drive-through (no indoor ceremonies will be allowed);
--Must adhere to the relevant capacity limitation in place at the time of the ceremony (this may require districts to hold multiple ceremonies held over a period of time to ensure capacity restrictions are not exceeded);
--Districts and institutions must determine the minimum number of staff and faculty necessary to facilitate commencement ceremonies and adjust attendance requirements accordingly;
--Caps, gowns, diplomas, and other materials must be mailed to individual student homes, sent electronically where possible, or otherwise distributed in a manner that complies with social distancing guidelines;
--All activities must be coordinated in consultation with municipal officials, such as the local Office of Emergency Management, local law enforcement, first responders, and local health officials.
--Additionally, DOE guidance will stipulate that commencements must be held only for graduation from middle school or high school, and not for other ceremonies that mark promotion from one grade to the next. Districts and institutions of higher education can continue to opt for virtual or drive-through/drive-in ceremonies held in accordance with Executive Order 142. Only virtual ceremonies can be held prior to July 6.

In Paterson, school leaders are planning both virtual and in person ceremonies based on the guidelines set by the governor, including using the largest space available and seating students 6 feet apart.

"They'll have to wear face coverings," Superintendent Eileen Shafer said. "We're going to limit it to two guests. Those two guests are going to have to register so that when they come to get into the stadium, we don't have any problems We know who they are. We'll have markings so people know where to sit."

And while a lot of the specifics have yet to be ironed out, school such as Cedar Grove are preparing all they can.

"It's going to be small, based on the parameters the governor is giving us," Mangili said. "That's what we will abide by.""

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