As the coronavirus pandemic and school closures have stretched on this spring, school leaders have waited to make decisions on the year’s biggest event in most districts – and a milestone in the life of any K-12 student – high school graduation.
The New Jersey Department of Education offered guidance on virtual graduation ceremonies in a May 8 memo, noting that at this time, only virtual graduations could be held. The State Director of Emergency Management cautioned that congregating in one place to conduct a drive-by celebration violates current restrictions, and he provided further clarification on the matter, noting that it was permissible to hold drive-by celebrations if participants remained in cars.
School Board Notes posted a survey last week, seeking input from local districts, and is leaving the survey open for additional responses. The survey replies so far indicate that while some districts have undertaken various projects to celebrate their graduates, including delivering goody bags and lawn signs to the homes of graduating seniors, and putting up banners to congratulate graduates in the town center, many are still in the process of making final plans for a graduation ceremony.
Some districts have made plans public in recent news articles.
Gretchen Dempsey, Somerset Hills Regional superintendent, told one news outlet that the high school principal and his team delivered caps and gowns to graduating seniors, along with personalized lawn signs. Students will be video-recorded walking in front of the high school; the videos will be used in virtual graduation. If districts are permitted to hold live events later in the summer, the district will organize something then.
Ridgewood is planning two graduations for the class of 2020, according to a letter sent to families by the superintendent. The first will be virtual. Students will come to the school at a predetermined time, where each senior will walk along the front lawn, have their name read, take a picture with their immediate family and return to their car. The video footage will be edited for a virtual graduation event.
School officials are tentatively planning an in-person graduation to be held on July 28, or if restrictions on large gatherings have not been lifted by then, it will be held Thanksgiving weekend.
In a radio news interview, Deptford High School Principal Jeffrey Lebb said the school is bringing students to the school one at a time in caps and gowns for pictures and to produce a video ceremony. At a separate time, student and administrator speeches will be taped.
The New Jersey Department of Education has invited schools to share virtual graduation celebrations or related activities by using the hashtag #NJGrad2020 on social media.