Coronavirus News: NJ to allow outdoor graduation ceremonies starting July 6

NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- New Jersey schools can hold outdoor graduation ceremonies starting July 6, Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday.

Murphy announced the latest relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in a tweet before his regular news conference on the outbreak.

"To the class of 2020, I am proud to say that you will have your opportunity to join with your classmates and families to celebrate your graduation," Murphy said.

The events must be held outside and adhere to social-distancing guidelines, Murphy said, and it's possible such restrictions will mean that graduation ceremonies must occur over a couple of days.

It's not clear yet how many people will be permitted to attend the ceremonies, he said, but added that the state education and higher education departments will issue guidance on Wednesday.

"I am proud to say that our graduates will have the opportunity to join their classmates and families to celebrate graduation," Murphy said. "Despite the uncertainty of these times, our students deserve to have their hard work acknowledged and celebrate safely. We have reached a point where we feel confident moving forward and giving our graduates the send-off they have so rightly earned."

Schools are closed through June because of the outbreak, but this is the latest easing of restrictions, which have included opening parks and golf courses along with the state's beaches.

The following requirements must be met for commencement ceremonies:
--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.

Murphy reported there were 703 new positive cases of COVID-19 overnight, putting the total at nearly 156,000. There were 54 deaths overnight, pushing the death toll to 11,191.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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