TRENTON — With a cautious eye toward continued COVID-19 risk at in-person commencement ceremonies, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin has introduced a bill to extend school districts' liability insurance coverage for graduating high school seniors for one additional month, through July 31.

Coughlin, D-Woodbridge, introduced the bill Thursday and said he has not yet spoken to many of his colleagues about it, but expects the measure to receive widespread bipartisan support.

The speaker had been hearing from school leaders about a need to protect their districts, their school grounds, and their outgoing students even as the pandemic continues.

"There were some concerns from the educational community that the insurance coverage that is afforded to students would expire when they graduated," Coughlin said, as that would have been by the end of June in almost any other year.

In a release, Coughlin called graduation a "rite of passage," a milestone for young New Jerseyans and their families, for which all possible safeguards must be put in place.

"They can participate in the graduation ceremony and the school district can be comfortable in that knowledge that they have that same level of coverage," he said.

Coughlin commended the many districts and students who have taken pandemic-related challenges in stride and adjusted to virtual graduations. But he said an in-person celebration is something that can't be truly replaced.

"I think they deserve to have the kind of ceremony that they've looked forward to, at least since last fall when they started their senior year," Coughlin said. "I'm sure hopeful that this will certainly make it easy for school districts to come to the conclusion, that we ought to have the graduation ceremony."

The bill is scheduled to go before the Assembly Education Committee on June 10, a little less than four weeks before Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order to allow outdoor, socially distanced high school and college graduations takes effect.

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