Toms River Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill said that especially after Gov. Phil Murphy himself participated in a large demonstration last weekend, high school seniors have be allowed to have something of a traditional graduation ceremony.
Murphy, this week, lifted his state-at-home order and began the process of allowing restaurants and other businesses to open up under certain conditions, but the word on graduations was less specific. The administration is targeting July 6 to allow gatherings of up to 500 people, however even that number still might not be enough to support the number of students, teachers and family members who attend graduations at high school.
In lifting the stay-at-home order this week, Murphy said constitutionally protected activities, such as political demonstrations and religious services, would not be subject to the current outdoor gathering limit, which currently sits at 100 people, will move to 250 June 22 and 500 in July. Across New Jersey, protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis have drawn large crowds, sometimes measured in the thousands. Murphy himself participated in one such demonstration the day before he announced that they would be allowed.
“There were very large demonstrations over the past weekend,” Hill said this week. “Governor Murphy was involved in one in Hillside and I don’t see any reason why we can’t safely do this on football fields. These high school seniors have already lost a third of their senior year, forgoing proms, senior activities, spring plays and spring concerts.”
During his announcement this week, Murphy continued to encourage social distancing practices.
“Please continue to be responsible and safe,” Murphy said. “Wear face coverings and keep a social distance from others when out in public.”
Murphy, as well as all those around him, wore a face covering during his appearance at the demonstration last weekend. Hill, in his remarks, appealed to lawmakers in Trenton to see the importance of a graduation ceremony in light of the sometimes-depressing senior year many students experienced due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“For some of the students, it will be the end of their formal education, and many students will be starting jobs, going to college or entering military service,” Hill said. “They deserve the right to celebrate with their classmates who they’ve been with since kindergarten. If the data drives the dates, we can do it and we can do it safely.”
Councilwoman Maria Maruca also said students should be able to hold a graduation ceremony. Some township officials also said restrictions on restaurants should be lifted to allow indoor dining at a 30 percent capacity. But comments were focused on the graduation ceremonies, which have become a particularly contentious issue in Toms River, home to the state’s largest suburban school district.
“I think it’s grossly unfair to let them wait until July,” said Hill. “I’m very frustrated on the lack of action by the governor.”