Murphy: Outdoor graduations OK starting July 6
Gov. Phil Murphy Tuesday announced that beginning July 6, schools will be able to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies.
The announcement on the governor's Twitter feed at 9:45 a.m. was light on details, saying only that ceremonies would have to comply with social distancing. But Murphy was scheduled to hold his daily novel coronavirus response briefing at 11 a.m.
All New Jersey schools have been closed to in-person instruction since March, under Murphy's executive orders shutting down most retail businesses and preventing gatherings in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus. In recent weeks, Murphy has started to slowly loosen restrictions, with a particular emphasis on outdoor activities.
Several lawmakers, including State Senate President Steve Sweeney, last week stepped up calls for the governor to allow outdoor graduations.
In a letter to his fellow Democratic leader, Sweeney endorsed a request by Gloucester County superintendents to allow voluntary in-person graduation ceremonies with limits placed on crowd sizes and interactions.
Notably, Deptford Township High School Principal Jeffrey Lebb plans to hold 125 "mini-graduations." Over a span of five days, two graduates at a time, joined by two guests each at most, would take part in 15-minute mini-graduation ceremonys. No individual ceremony would exceed 10 people, according to Lebb.
"While it would be unconventional, it is a creative way to preserve this momentous occasion and celebrate the class of 2020," Sweeney wrote, according to a copy of the letter published by InsiderNJ.
The state Senate president further offered any assistance he could be in making graduations happen.
The Sun Newspapers report last week, 14 Gloucester County superintendents sent Murphy a letter asking for some sort of outdoor graduations to be permitted.
Murphy, for his part, had been non-committal on in-person graduations until Tuesday, but suggested more guidance could be coming in the past few days.
Last week, responding to a call from state Sen. Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, for graduations with social distancing policies in place, Murphy said it's possible they could be allowed by the end of June.
“If it’s an outdoor related activity where we can have some management of capacity and social distancing, you should assume those are high on our list of considerations,” he said last week. "We’re able to consider right now a pretty long list of potential steps over a period of time measured between days and weeks. We are chopping through this.”
Murphy relaxed restrictions for small gatherings ahead of Memorial Day weekend, continuing to eye COVID-19 hospitalization rates that have gone down for weeks, and declining use of ventilators in New Jersey hospitals. He's said he's cautious to avoid another spike in novel coronavirus cases, but is moving through a multi-stage plan to reopen New Jersey businesses and public spaces.
In early May, Murphy formally ordered New Jersey schools closed to in-person instruction for the remainder of the year. Schools have operated remotely since March.