New Jersey Department of Education Releases Guidelines for School Prom, Commencement Events

By: Joshua Gras, Writer / Follow South Jersey News Reporting Internship

Photo: Ryan Schumacher | Follow South Jersey

TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced on Monday that school proms and graduation ceremonies will be allowed to take place with loosened capacity restrictions as New Jersey’s COVID-19 metrics continue to improve.

Venues — including high school football stadiums with capacities of more than 1,000 people — will be allowed to operate at up to 50% capacity. Students who choose to attend their proms or similar end-of-year events will be allowed to dance, but they must wear masks and practice social distancing while doing so.

The New Jersey Department of Education recommends that schools host proms and similar events at outdoor locations because social distancing is easier to achieve in these settings. However, they will be allowed to hold these events at indoor venues as long as they adhere to the state’s COVID-19 guidance.

As far as commencement ceremonies are concerned, New Jersey updated its definition of “large venues” to include any venue with a capacity of more than 1,000 fixed seats. High schools with football stadiums that meet this requirement are strongly encouraged to hold their commencement ceremonies outdoors, which they can do at 50% capacity as long as community members are seated six feet apart.

“The question is, if you’ve got a 1,000-seat high school stadium and you can successfully get to 50% capacity and be six feet apart by doing so, other than your own families, how many people can you have at your graduation? You can have 1,000 people,” Gov. Murphy said during his COVID-19 briefing on Monday. “Five hundred in the stands and 500 on the field. Everybody got that? That, hopefully, is going to allow most places in the state to be able to get to where they want to get to. Again … if the numbers keep going in the right direction and people keep continuing to do the right thing including especially getting vaccinated, our capacities will continue to open up as sure as we’re sitting here.”

Local educational agencies throughout the state are required to stay up to date on CDC guidelines as they are subject to change. Schools are also encouraged to hold multiple smaller ceremonies for prom and graduation throughout the day so they can more easily adhere to the venues’ capacity limits.

Information on health and safety practices must be relayed to attendees, and sanitation equipment will also be required at all school-related gatherings.

This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.