Will there be proms and graduations this year?

A year ago, New Jersey was still in the midst of the first wave of coronavirus infections. Thousands were hospitalized and vaccinations were still months away. All school buildings were closed, students were all learning from home, strict limits on gatherings were in place and the Class of 2020 was denied traditional rights of passage for a senior year like prom and walking with classmates for graduation.

Will this year be different? Yes. And no.

While the most stringent restrictions have been lifted, gathering limits remain in place. The impact on prom and graduation are still not clear.

Two weeks, ago Gov. Phil Murphy eased some of New Jersey's gathering restrictions. Currently, indoor venues with 2,500 or more seats can operate at 20% capacity. Outdoor venues can operate at 30% capacity. Banquet halls can currently host up to 35% capacity with a limit of 150 people. Outdoor gatherings with up to 200 people are permitted.

Even those expanded limits would make traditional graduations not possible for a second year in a row. The indoor venue limits would make staging a prom equally difficult. But the governor did say Monday he would be surprised if those limits "don't go up," and new guidance would be coming soon.

Last year, under intense pressure from parents and seniors, Murphy eventually allowed graduations to be held outside with up to 500 socially distanced people. Many schools, however, canceled in-person graduation and either hosted smaller or even personalized ceremonies or moved graduation to a virtual format. Prom was canceled.

It would be hard to imagine this year would have greater restrictions than 2020 but clarity has yet to come from the Murphy administration.

Some schools have been making plans for graduation and prom already, anticipating the state would make accommodations for the Class of 2021. Other districts have been waiting to see what Murphy does.

Even with millions of New Jersey residents already fully vaccinated and the state on pace to reach Murphy's target of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by the end of this month, he has been hesitant to fully ease restrictions. Murphy and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli continue to cite the spread of COVID mutations as the reason most restrictions remain in place.

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