Murphy Sued to Stop June Graduation in Wayne. Teens Had One Anyway
Just days after Gov. Phil Murphy sued to stop Wayne's mayor from putting on June graduation ceremonies for the township's 600-plus outgoing seniors, hundreds of teens gathered for their own ad-hoc ceremony anyway Thursday.
The ceremony -- like the one Mayor Chris Vergano planned, but nixed after being instructed to by a court -- was in apparent violation of Murphy's executive orders both limiting crowd sizes and postponing any graduations until after the July 4 holiday weekend.
Currently, New Jersey allows outdoor crowds of up to 100, after Murphy loosened a ban on all gatherings he'd issued in March -- part of a series of restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Murphy has said he expects to extend the allowed gathering size to 500 in July, if New Jersey continues to see declining rates of hospitalizations, deaths and contagion.
Tapinto.net reports about 180 students of Wayne Valley High School attended, many with family members or other guests. It makes no mention of any presence by police, township officials or school district officials. Neither Vergano's previously planned ceremony nor the one put on by students were sanctioned by the district.
According to Tapinto.net, the students gathered at Wayne Valley's football field in their caps and gowns Thursday. It quoted participating students saying the event came together after a mass text-message chain among seniors.
State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan this week didn't make any mention of the event in his daily compliance reports to media, given as part of the governor's daily coronavirus press conferences.
While violators of the governor's executive orders can be subject to summonses and fines, most attendees of large demonstrations -- including protests of Murphy's orders, and protests spurred by the death of unarmed black man George Floyd while being restrained by police in Minneapolis -- havern't received citations. Murphy himself attended two Black Lives Matter marches this month.
Some organizers of demonstrations against the executive orders have been cited, however -- leading critics, including an attorney representing some of those individuals, to say Murphy and law enforcement have been inconsistent and hypocritical in their application of the governor's orders.
Wayne police haven't yet returned a message left Saturday seeking more information on whether they'd been aware of the event, and what, if any, steps they took to manage the crowd or to enforce the governor's orders.
School Board President Suzanne Pudup told the Townsquare News Network she first learned about the graduation ceremony Friday, the day after it happened.
"It was not condoned or supported in any way by thew board of education," she said. "It was something that graduating seniors and some of their parents decided to do."
She was it was "not anything that we could have forseen."
Pudup said the school's football field and tracks have been open for use by people practicing proper social distancing. The caps and gowns were recently distributed to students in anticipation of their graduation, though not this ceremony, she said.
Pudup said she wasn't aware of any presence by any township or school district personnel.
The district is continuing to plan authorized graduation ceremonies for both Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills High School, Pudup said. It's reached out to the student community for feedback on options that include gatherings without spectators, or multiple smaller gatherings with them, to stay compliant with Murphy's restrictions on crowd sizes.
Vergano, the mayor who'd previously planned his own ceremony, hasn't yet returned messages left at a listed home number and with his Facebook account Saturday.