WAYNE — High school seniors across the state have been worrying whether they'll even have a graduation ceremony this year. Not in Wayne, where the dilemma is about which of the competing ceremonies they should attend.

Mayor Christopher Vergano said he is continuing with his plan to hold a commencement ceremony for Wayne Valley High School on June 18 and Wayne Hills High School on June 19 at the municipal parking lot.

The municipal ceremonies next week are not sanctioned by the school district. They are also unlawful, as Gov. Phil Murphy's pandemic executive orders allow in-person graduations starting July 6.

The school district, meanwhile, is planning a "virtual" graduation for both high schools on June 18 and a full-scale graduation ceremony on July 30.

The municipality was admonished Thursday by Murphy, who said “it appears to be organized in the way we want it; the bad news is we're not allowing them until July 6.”

Outdoor gatherings will still be limited to 100 individuals in attendance on the dates of the two ceremonies. The limits are expected to be raised to at least 500 by the time graduations are permitted.

Vergano told NorthJersey.com he thought it was time to “step up and do something” for the seniors who have nothing because of the pandemic. The mayor told TAP into Wayne that he is holding the ceremonies for the graduates.

"I'll say it again, this is not about (Board of Education president Cathy) Kazan, it's not about Murphy, it's not about Vergano. This is about the graduating class of 2020, and what we are doing on June 18 and June 19 is for all of them and no one else," Vergano told TAP into Wayne.

Social-distancing protocols will be in place for the ceremonies with face coverings required during the procession. Chairs that attendees bring will have to be spaced 6 feet apart and programs will be distributed digitally. No restrooms will be available.

In a post on his Facebook page, Vergano wrote: "My children graduated from Wayne Valley years ago. My only goal was to facilitate a celebration for our kids and our community where there was none."

Schools Superintendent Mark Toback and members of the Board of Education will not attend the ceremonies planned by Vergano fearing a backlash from the state Department of Education.

"Based on advice from legal counsel, we cannot officially participate in such an event as we could risk the loss of funding, as well as other sanctions from the Department of Education," Toback said in a written statement. "We know this has created a tremendous amount of turmoil for our seniors. We also know how important a traditional graduation is for our seniors and their families and we are optimistic about the future."

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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