High school seniors in New Jersey should not expect graduations to take place as scheduled at the end of May or June, due to uncertainties created by the ongoing pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday.
"I'm not trying to be flippant, but I wouldn't put any nonrefundable checks down on your celebrations right now," said Murphy, when asked if there has been any specific plan of holding or delaying those ceremonies. "I mean, it's hard to say otherwise. I hope I'm wrong but I fear that I am not."
"You wouldn't be dealing with the facts if I were to say publicly right now that you should feel okay about a late May, early June, graduation celebration," he added. "I just personally don't see it. I hope I'm wrong."
Health and education officials said it remains unclear when the outbreak will subside enough to make a return to work and school possible. It comes as the Garden State saw its highest number of COVID-19 deaths in a single day on Tuesday, with Murphy announcing 232 additional deaths, bringing statewide fatalities to 1,232.
Although this year's high school seniors are unlikely to get to participate in graduation ceremonies with families and friends, they are allowed to graduate without meeting certain requirements.
In order to earn a high school diploma, seniors would have to achieve a minimum score on the state's assessment tests. Those who did not pass the tests would need to go through a portfolio process. Murphy waived both requirements for the class of 2020, because of school closures and the cancellation of those standardized tests.
"This means that the 13,000 current high school seniors who have not yet satisfied the student assessment requirement will no longer have to submit a portfolio appeal in order to graduate," said Murphy. "This order also waives the use of student testing data for educator evaluations, which was not feasible anyway, given that we have canceled this year's standardized tests."
In March, New Jersey requested and received approval from the U.S. Department of Education to cancel federal-mandated tests in English language arts and mathematics that were scheduled for this month. According to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, all 50 states, Washington, and Puerto Rico have sought and received assessment waivers.