BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - Bernards Township's six schools were ready to open on Thursday with some 5,700 students, a figure due to be updated when children and high schoolers actually report to their classrooms, and some changes ahead for the 2014-15 school year. 

Preliminary enrollment figures prior to schools' opening was 1,903 students at Ridge High School; 1,384 students at the grades 6 to 8 William Annin Middle School; and at the kindergarten through grade 5 elementary schools, 609 students at Cedar Hill School; 562 students at Liberty Corner School; 583 students at Oak Street School; and 665 students at Mount Prospect School in The Hills. That adds up to 5,706 students, not a substantial change from last year.

Graduation and the last day of school for all students is scheduled for June 18, 2015, according to the school calendar.

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Bernards Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian said on Wednesday that major projects undertaken this summer at Ridge High School, Liberty Corner Elementary School and in the foods room at William Annin Middle School were "substantially complete" the day before students were to arrive.

The creation of another two-way entrance and exit into Ridge High School, a relocation and expansion of the driveway running alongside the Bernards Township Health Department off South Finley Avenue, means a change in traffic pattern that will have buses and students and staff parking in the C and D back lots using the new driveway. No left turns off South Finley Avenue will be allowed.

The completion of the project, with a base cost of about $240,000, also means that Ridge buses will no longer be dropping off students at the adjoining Cedar Hill School parking lot for the first time since winter 2012. That bus route, designed to relieve morning backups at the traffic light and main entrance into the high school at 268 S. Finley Ave., was vigorously opposed by many residents of the Homestead Village neighborhood by Cedar Hill School.

An Aug. 15 email sent out by Ridge Principal Frank Howlett that advises students, staff and parents how to enter and exit the high school under a revised traffic pattern.

Other projects completed this summer

School officials also said at last week's Board of Education meeting that the repaving of the Liberty Corner School's driveway and parking area would be open to the public by this week, although there is some dispute with the project's contractor about final details.

The renovation of the foods room at the middle school also was undertaken this summer.

Voluntary random drug testing program in place

Although it has not yet been put in place, the Board of Education this summer approved a voluntary random drug testing program.

The random drug testing program allows parents to "opt in" to have their students in the middle school and at Ridge High School tested at random for drug use and substance abuse has been approved by the Bernards Township Board of Education. However, Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian said the program will take some time for school administrators to put into place, and it isn't set to begin this September.

"It will take some time to set up," Markarian said after the policy for students in grades 6 to 12 received unanimous school board approval in July.  First reading of the policy had taken place about a month earlier, and the policy now has received final approval.

But with many details still to be worked out, it "may be some months before can actually implement the policy," Markarian said in an email after the board's approval. 

The policy is posted online on the Bernards Township school website. The second part of the policy, also posted online, lets parents sign up to have their children included in the random drug testing pool, or instead decide not to have their students be tested at random. The school district already can request a student be tested if drug or substance abuse is suspected.

Testing to look for marijuana, cocaine, oxycodone use and more

Students' urine samples would be tested for substances that may include marijuana, amphetamines, barbituates, benzodiazepines, cocaine, MDMA, methadone, methamphetamines, opiates, oxycodone, phencyclidine (PCP), propoxyphene and any other substance defined as a "controlled substance" under New Jersey or federal law. 

Parents are able to withdraw students from the random testing pool if they later change their minds.

In his welcome-back letter to students for the 2014-2015 school year, Markarian said other changes of note include:

 PARCC testing will replace the NJASK and the HSPA standardized tests.
 Hundreds of Chromebooks will be infused throughout the district by the end of September
 A new version of Home Access Center was going online by the end of August.
 New policies making defibrillators available to student athletes and regulations on electronic communication
between staff and students will begin in September