N.J. to allow outdoor graduations — starting July 6 (UPDATED)

Gov. Phil Murphy announced the state will allow outdoor graduation ceremonies, beginning July 6, provided they comply with all social distancing regulations.

Murphy said the state’s Department of Education and Office of the Secretary of Higher Education would release guidance on safety measures — most specifically on required social distancing and reduced capacity — on Wednesday.

Murphy said larger schools may have to have multiple ceremonies — possibly over multiple days — to make sure they are compliant with the regulations. He also said the order applies to all graduation exercises, not just high school and college.

“Our goal is to ensure that our students are given the send-offs they deserve, and which they have been working toward,” he said. “We want them to celebrate — and to be celebrated by their families, friends and the educators who helped get them there.

“Certainly, these will be graduations unlike any others — the steps we are taking are necessary to ensure the health and safety of everyone in attendance — but we are equally as confident that no one will ever forget the way we will celebrate the Class of 2020.”

The July 6 date is a few weeks later than most schools had originally scheduled their commencement exercises. Murphy said he and health officials felt the extra time hopefully would allow for an increase in conditions.

In the end, he said, it came down on whether to host ceremonies before the Fourth of July weekend or after.

Murphy hinted last week that he was prepared to make this announcement.

“We want to get this right,” he said last Friday. “This would be a big gathering and it has to be done right.”

Murphy said then that his concerns regarding social distance at such events — preventing a situation where one positive case becomes a so-called “superspreader” — were paramount.

“The impact the virus has on individuals from those gatherings is much more consequential and more difficult than just getting it in a sort of passing way,” he said. “Please, folks, we’re not doing this for any reason other than to keep as many people healthy and alive as possible.”

Murphy has said for weeks and months that questions regarding graduations have been the most frequent — especially from the parents of high school seniors.

This past week, four key members of the Legislature — Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), Sens. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) and Declan O’Scanlon (R-Holmdel) and Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R-Holmdel) — were vocal in their support  for in-person graduations.

“There are plenty of logical, innovative ways that parents and school officials have proposed to make this happen safely, the government just needs to get out of the way,” O’Scanlon said.

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