State releases guidelines for modified in-person graduation ceremonies

No handing out of diplomas, no live music, a limited number of non-graduates at the event, coordinated entrance and exit plans — and 6 feet of spacing for everyone, everywhere and all times.

The state Department of Education released its guidelines for outdoor graduations Wednesday night — and they include many recommendations that most expected.

What was not included was a clear recommendation regarding the number of people allowed to attend. That is, a recommendation on whether schools would have to have multiple ceremonies to handle bigger classes. The guidelines said ceremonies must “meet the relevant capacity limitation on in-person gatherings in place at the time of the ceremony.”

The recommendations did include limited person-to-person contact and said districts should provide diplomas and caps/gowns to students in advance of graduation ceremonies.

Programs, maps and other documents can be emailed or mailed to families before the ceremony. As sharing or exchanging materials of any kind poses an increased risk of transmission or spread of COVID-19, it should be avoided. Chairs and other equipment should not be shared and should be sanitized before and after use.

School districts that plan to hold a drive-in/drive-through or modified in-person ceremony must certify to the Department of Education, via an online submission form that will be made available June 5, that their planned ceremony will comply with applicable requirements for gatherings, including those addressing social distancing.

The form must be submitted no later than seven days prior to the scheduled date of the ceremony, which can begin on July 6.

Read the complete guidelines here.

Here are the recommendations for modified in-person, outdoor ceremonies:

  • Local review: School districts should plan ceremonies in consultation with municipal officials (local law enforcement, local health officials, etc.).
  • Location: Ceremonies must take place outdoors. Indoor ceremonies are not permitted. Open-air rain tarps, tents and other outdoor structures may be used only to protect against foul weather or for shade.
  • Attendance: Schools may consider limiting the number of guests or holding student-only commencements. Ceremonies must meet the relevant capacity limitation on in-person gatherings in place at the time of the ceremony.
  • Social distancing: Attendees must remain 6 feet apart at all times, excluding immediate family members, caretakers, household members or romantic partners. Schools should consider using tape or other materials to demarcate 6 feet of distance between students and attendees while standing and walking, and ensure that all seating for students, guests and staff allows for 6 feet of distance between persons.
  • Multiple ceremonies: Districts should consider class size and available space to determine the number of ceremonies needed. Districts should follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New Jersey Department of Health protocols for cleaning in between ceremonies and consider holding ceremonies over the span of several days.
  • Duration: Districts should consider limiting the length of ceremonies to shorten the time students and attendees are exposed to each other. Districts should also limit speakers and live performances and avoid the sharing of microphones or other equipment that may pose a health risk.
  • Entrances/exits: Districts should assign staff to monitor entrances and exits to prevent congregation and consider staggering arrival times to ease crowds at access points. If possible, districts should utilize multiple entrance and exit points.
  • Face coverings: In accordance with CDC recommendations, attendees should wear face coverings (except for children under 2 or in cases that would inhibit a person’s health).
  • Staff limits: Schools should limit the number of staff members to only those required to facilitate the commencement ceremony.
  • Sick individuals: Sick individuals obviously should not attend. Schools should consider screening visitors upon arrival with non-contact thermometers and excluding any person with a temperature exceeding 100.4 degrees.
  • Equity: Districts are encouraged to ensure that graduation ceremonies are inclusive and accessible for all students and families. Accommodations should be made for families that may not be able to attend in person.

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