After virtual celebrations around the state, New Jersey high school graduates finally are getting the in-person ceremonies they've hoped for since COVID-19 derailed plans in mid-March.

New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA) Executive Director Richard Bozza said
where there are small graduating classes, they can accommodate the outdoor restrictions on school football fields and similar outdoor locations. For larger graduating classes, there are split "shifts," most often organized by last name, reporting to the venue at staggered times.

Separating graduates into smaller groups also allows for each student to still bring two family members, in many cases, based on guidance released by a number of NJ public school districts.

Bozza said some districts did wrap the year with virtual celebrations that many schools planned in late spring, when guidance still was pending based on how effective NJ's stay-at-home directive was in stemming the spread of the virus.

Jackson Township school district is among those splitting the Class of 2020 in-person festivities into two halves, for both of the town's public high schools. Jackson Memorial High School ceremonies will be held Wednesday, while Jackson Liberty High School is set for Thursday.

In both cases, graduates with last names that begin with A-K report to the school's football field at 10 a.m. Graduates with last names that begin with L-Z report to the field at 1 p.m. Each student is able to invite two loved ones, to comply with the state capacity on outdoor gatherings.

Atlantic City High School is celebrating its large graduating class with three ceremonies, all staggered Wednesday alphabetically by last name. The first group will celebrate starting at 10 a.m., the second group begins promptly at 12:30 p.m. and the final group reports to the ACHS football field for a 3:30 p.m. ceremony.

At Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, the Class of 2020 also is being split in half for graduation. Each of the roughly 230 graduates will be given two guest tickets to their own ceremony. Each graduate also is given one ticket to the opposite ceremony, so that graduates who choose to may sit and watch friends at the opposing end of the alphabet at their ceremony.

In Cranford, high school graduates have the chance to attend a full, abbreviated class ceremony at 10 a.m. Wednesday. There are then two evening ceremonies, also split by last name, at which each graduate can be accompanied by two family members, according to guidance outlined by school officials.

Bozza said there is concern that excited graduates might forget about social distancing protocols "in the moment," particularly as there is medical evidence that young people can be asymptomatic and still spread novel coronavirus to family members.

"The message is be safe, be careful, and hopefully we'll listen and take care of one another," Bozza said.

Woodbridge is having in-person ceremonies at the district's three public high schools at staggered times on Wednesday.

In a video shared to Youtube Saturday, Woodbridge Schools Superintendent Robert Zega reminded graduates of the plans, including not to attend if they are feeling ill or if they recently traveled to any of the "hot spot" states where the community spread of COVID-19 is high.

Zega said an obligation to attend a funeral in South Carolina meant he is self quarantining and would not be attending the township graduations.

In-person ceremonies also are set this week at high schools in New Brunswick, South Plainfield, Brick, Toms River, Chatham and Wayne, among others.

Freehold Regional Schools Superintendent Charles Sampson said the five high schools within his district were still planning for in-person ceremonies the week of July 27, once the graduates and their families complete surveys on options within the state's new outdoor protocols.

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