While proms and graduations are prohibited under Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order banning gatherings, the popular drive-bys that have been occurring throughout the state, like those celebrating birthdays, would not be prohibited, Col. Patrick Callahan, the state’s director of emergency management, said Monday.

Callahan said that the state could not prevent drive-bys but is discouraging any gatherings that go against Executive Order 107, which bans all in-person graduation ceremonies and celebrations of any kind.

After school districts reported confusion over a May 9 statement about what is allowable for graduation celebrations, Callahan issued a clarification at Monday’s COVID-19 briefing.

“A wave parade is allowed that does not summon people to assemble in front of schools, parks, football fields,” he said. “Any gathering where people get out of their cars [is banned].”

Wave parades going by seniors’ homes, where the families congregate on the porch or front lawn as well-wishers drive by, would be acceptable, he said. 

In the previous statement issued to districts on May 9, Callahan wrote: “In the best interest of the health and safety of the public, in-person ceremonies, including graduations, all parades, including ‘wave parades,’ that invite people to gather at a certain location, proms, and other similar celebrations violate the enumerated conditions of the order, and should therefore be cancelled or postponed until such time as these restrictions are lifted. Until such time, virtual celebrations and other remote forms of recognition should take the place of any in-person or public ceremonies.”

In a statement issued on May 9, AbdulSaleem Hasan, the assistant commissioner of the Department of Education’s Division of Field Services, said that only “virtual graduation ceremonies can be planned at this time,” because Murphy’s emergency executive orders remain in effect.

Interim Superintendent Nathan Parker said that “the directive limits the options significantly.”

MHS Assistant Principal Reginald Clark said the students were surveyed about having a ceremony later in the summer, and although the students were in favor of pushing off the date, administrators feared that restrictions on large gatherings will still be in place.

A virtual graduation will take place on the same dates and times as the already scheduled Class of 2020 Graduation to take place on June 24.

“To the extent possible, the virtual graduation ceremony will replicate as many components of an in-person graduation ceremony, including the processional, student speeches along with honors and student recognition. In order to capture these moments, we are asking graduates full participation in the process of collecting photos and videos for the essential elements of the graduation ceremony, as well as those from friends and families. The ceremony will be streamed for personal families to view from the comfort and safety of their own homes,” Clark wrote to the parents this week.

Administrators are in the process of developing a plan for the distribution of caps and gowns, yearbooks and diplomas.

Recognizing that high school graduation is a milestone for students and families, the DOE released tips and suggestions for holding virtual graduation ceremonies and related celebratory activities during the COVID-19 emergency:

  • Stream the ceremony on the district website, local TV station or on another streaming service that includes pre-recorded speeches or messages. 
  • Consider reaching out to celebrities or public figures to record speeches or messages for graduating seniors. 
  • If resources allow, the district might consider developing a virtual-reality graduation, where within a virtual-graduation environment, student avatars participate in a graduation ceremony. 
  • Schools can also consider asking members of the graduating class to take a leading role in the graduation ceremony. Seniors can be asked in advance to send video messages while they wear their cap and gown and/or other regalia. During the virtual ceremony, students and their families will hear pre-recorded messages from speakers, edited together in the flow of a traditional graduation ceremony, and students’ names as well as messages will be announced with their photo displayed. 

The department also suggested that the community plan a recognition project for the seniors such as posting banners with students’ senior pictures around the school community, listing the names of graduates in the local newspaper, and creating yard signs for all students to post.