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May 28, 2020

Outdoor graduation ceremonies will be permitted in New Jersey after July 6 – with prior approval by the state

Commencements must follow social distancing guidelines and in-person gatherings restrictions

Education Graduations
New Jersey outdoor graduations Good Free Photos/via Unsplash

In-person outdoor graduation ceremonies can occur starting July 6 across New Jersey.

New Jersey schools can begin holding in-person graduation ceremonies beginning July 6, so long as they follow guidelines from the New Jersey Department of Education and the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education.

Schools, as of that date, schools will have the additional options to conduct modified outdoor commencements or  or drive-thru/drive-in ceremonies. Schools also may still opt hold virtual ceremonies, which are currently permitted. It will be up to individual schools, school districts and institutions of higher education which to choose, but New Jersey officials said those decisions should be made in consultation with local authorities.

School officials seeking to hold in-person outdoor graduations or drive-thru/drive-in events must must get their plans certified by New Jersey. The application, which will be available on June 5 and needs to be submitted at least a week before the event, must show that the ceremony complies with social distancing and capacity guidelines.

Schools and colleges must comply with social distancing protocols and have capacity limits in place when the ceremonies are held, and schools are encouraged to limit the number of staff members and faculty in attendance to only those who are needed to operate the ceremony. The number of guests should also be limited, or student-only ceremonies should be held.

Attendees must remain six feet apart at all times, and schools should use markers to keep 6-feet of space between students. All seating must ensure 6 feet of distance between attendees, too, and face coverings must be worn.

Anyone who is sick or who has come into close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 should be discouraged from attending, and visitors should be screened upon arrival with non-contact thermometers. Anyone with a fever should not be allowed to enter the commencement.

School and colleges should consider class size and available space to determine the number of ceremonies needed. Cleaning should be conducted in between ceremonies, and multiple ceremonies should be held over the span of several days if necessary.

School officials all need to consider holding shorter ceremonies to reduce the time people are exposed to each other. That means limiting the number of speakers and live performances. The sharing of microphones, chairs, and other equipment should not be allowed.

Ceremonies should be inclusive and accessible for all students and families, and accommodations should be made for those who are unable to attend in-person. 

Since indoor ceremonies are prohibited, tents and other outdoor structures may be used to protect against bad weather or for shade.

Schools should have staff assigned, monitoring entrances and exits, to prevent people from congregating. Also organizers should consider staggering arrival times to limit crowding together, as well as utilize multiple entrances and exits.

Before the ceremony, diplomas caps, and gowns should be sent to students in advance, and programs and maps should be distributed via email or mail ahead of time as well.

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