Masks, limited guests, temperature checks. Those are among the recommendations from the New Jersey Department of Education who released guidance Wednesday night on modified outdoor commencement ceremonies to be allowed beginning July 6.
The Department of Education is providing three alternatives to traditional commencement ceremonies for public school districts, charter schools, renaissance school projects and nonpublic schools (collectively “school districts”): (1) virtual, (2) drive-through/drive-in, or (3) modified in-person, outdoor ceremonies.
The new guidelines do not include a total number of people who can attend a modified outdoor ceremony — only stating that ceremonies must meet the capacity limits for outdoor gatherings in place on the date of the graduation. The current number is 25, but Murphy has stated that number would likely increase as data continues to show declining COVID-19 cases.
Prior to July 6, only ceremonies that take place virtually are permitted, so districts that have planned drive-in or drive-by ceremony should only schedule these beginning July 6, 2020. Indoor ceremonies should not be considered.
For modified outdoor ceremonies, students must stay six-feet apart; all in attendance are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings. Schools may want to restrict or not allow guests and districts should consider checking temperatures of every person who enters the ceremony, per guidance from the state Department of Education. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 °F or higher should be excluded, per the guidelines.
Here are the full guidelines below from Dept. of Education:
Modified In-Person, Outdoor Commencement Ceremonies
In-person commencement ceremonies persons are permitted only on or after July 6, 2020 and must occur outdoors. These ceremonies must meet the relevant capacity limitation on in-person gatherings in place at the time of the ceremony. Depending on the social distancing requirements in place at the time of the ceremony, varying restrictions will apply.
The ceremony must take place outdoors, and all attendees must remain outdoors at all times during the gathering, with the sole exception of restroom use.
Open-air rain tarps, tents, and other outdoor structures shall be allowed solely for the purpose of protecting against foul weather or for shade.
All attendees at the gathering are required to remain six feet apart from other attendees at all times, excluding immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners. Consider using tape or other materials to demarcate six feet of distance between students and others while standing and walking, and ensure any chairs for students, guests and staff are six feet apart.
Consider class size and available space in light of social distancing protocol to determine the number of ceremonies needed. If conducting multiple ceremonies, follow CDC and NJDOH-recommended cleaning protocols in between ceremonies.
There should be limited contact between attendees, excluding immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners. To limit person-to-person contact, districts should consider contact-less measures for providing students with diplomas and caps/gowns, such as mailing materials to students’ homes. Programs, maps, and other documents can be distributed electronically in advance of the ceremony or mailed to students and families.
Sharing or exchanging materials of any kind poses an increased risk of transmission/spread of COVID-19 and should be avoided. (Throwing graduation caps, “Sign-in” practices, gifts, flowers, etc.)
If chairs and other equipment are provided, they should not be shared and should be sanitized before and after use.
Students may walk across a stage or area and pose for a picture individually.
Strongly encourage limiting the length of ceremonies to shorten the time the crowd is exposed to each other.
Limit group performances. Districts should limit speakers and ensure that individuals do not share microphones/ megaphones or other equipment that may pose a health risk.
Clearly communicate expectations and procedures regarding photography in order to limit crowding. Consider utilizing school staff to take photos and make them available to all families free of charge to minimize the need for families to gather around staged areas to take photos.
If allowing access to restrooms, take appropriate measures to prevent congregation such as marking standing locations and assigning staff to monitor these areas and consult with health officials on disinfection protocols.
Similarly, districts should assign staff to monitor entrances and egresses to prevent congregation. Consider staggering arrival times to ease crowds at access points.
Strongly encourage all individuals at the gathering to wear face coverings, in accordance with CDC recommendations, except where doing so would inhibit the individual’s health or where the individual is under two years of age, and remind attendees that they must wear such face coverings when required by an Executive Order.
Schools may want to consider limiting the number of guests that are permitted to attend the ceremony or holding student-only commencements.