Variance Requests

Variances are a way for a local educational agency (LEAs) to be allotted certain flexibility in their school district without undermining the intent of the law that is currently in place. The Superintendent can submit a variance request of specific elements of the Rhode Island General Laws and the Commissioner of Education may grant such request if it is one that falls within the Commissioner’s authority.

Does your district require a variance request?

Whether it is a budget deficit or concerns affecting the health and safety of students and staff, many situations can arise during the course of the school year that may oblige your district to seek alternatives to comply with regulations.

To help you better understand the variance request process at RIDE, please refer to the following tabs:

Below please find answers to the questions most commonly asked relating to variance request submissions to RIDE.

What is a variance?

A variance constitutes an alternative method of compliance with regulations rather than a relaxation of educational standards. (A variance to federal regulations cannot be considered under this protocol.) Variances may be allowed when an alternative method of compliance with the intent of the regulation assures equal educational opportunity, is consistent with best educational practices or would lead to the attainment of at least equal or better student outcomes than could occur with the literal application or enforcement of the regulations. A variance will not exceed three (3) years in duration. To extend a variance beyond the three (3) year time frame, the request must be resubmitted.

Who can apply for a variance?

The superintendent of a district may apply for a waiver. For a more detailed response see the information posted under “Submitting a Request.”

Who has the authority to grant a variance request?

 The Commissioner of Education has authority to issue variances to regulations issued by the Board of Education and the Commissioner. Such variances may be issued to any individual local education (LEA) agency requesting it. The Commissioner may initiate an open meeting to decide whether a variance should be granted. Notice of such meeting shall be published twenty (20) wok days in advance of the meeting and shall include the text of the variance sought along with an explanation of the variance. Notice of the meeting shall also be given to any recognized groups including parent and community groups, bargaining agents, and professional organizations whose interests would be directly affected by the granting of a variance. 

What is the effect of a variance granted by the commissioner of education?

The Commissioner may elect to confine any variance granted to the school district requesting it or, in the alternative, the Commissioner may give statewide effect to the variance. Before the Commissioner gives statewide effect to a variance, a public hearing at the state level shall be held following the established procedures for proposed regulation changes and shall be submitted to the Board of Education for approval.

When will I receive the outcome of my waiver?

Once your written request has been received it will be reviewed and replied to as soon as possible. The final report of action will be sent electronically as well as hard copy within fifteen (15) days of receipt of the request.

How do you obtain a variance for private schools?

The governing authority of a private school may be granted a variance on the same basis as such variances are granted to public schools.

What is the Applicability of this variance procedure?

This procedure for considering a variance will be used, except when otherwise provided for by regulation or law.

Are there any Limitations on the availability of variances?

Variances apply only to the regulations of the Board of Education or Commissioner of Education. This protocol shall not be applicable to individual variances of teacher certification requirements.

Is there a limitation on the length of the effect of variances?

Variances shall be reviewed by the Commissioner on an annual basis to determine whether or not continuation of a variance is appropriate.

Who do I contact if I have a question on the status of my variance request?

You can call the commissioner’s Office and speak to Colleen Brophy at 401-222-4275 or email at Colleen.Brophy@ride.ri.gov.


Below please find the School Committee procedure for applying for a variance.

Statutory requirements to request a variance:


If a Rhode Island school committee concludes that state education regulations are causing a budget deficit, the chairperson of the school committee may petition the Commissioner of Education:

To seek alternatives for the district to comply with state regulations and/or provide waivers to state regulations and, in particular those which are more restrictive than federal regulations that allow the school committee to operate with a balanced budget. (R.I.G.L.16-2-21.4

The same law also provides that:

Waivers which affect the health and safety of students and staff or which violate the provisions of chapter 24 [Handicapped Children] …shall not be granted. (R.I.G.L.16-2- 21.4(a)

The committee’s petition must identify (1) the alternatives it is proposing to use to comply with regulations and (2) the specific waivers it is seeking.

Commissioner of Education’s authority:


Of course, the Commissioner has no authority to waive or grant variances to:
  •     State laws 
  •     Federal laws 
  •     Federal regulations 
  •     Collective bargaining agreements 
  •     Court Decisions 
The Commissioner has 15 days to respond to the petition.

Procedural protocol for filing a variance request:


NOTE: Before beginning the variance request process, the superintendent of schools will review the variance request to determine whether the request is one which falls within the authority of the commissioner of education to grant. School Committee Counsel may be helpful in this. (Counsel for the State Department of Education will also be available to discuss this issue.)

(1) The superintendent shall call for a school committee meeting on the variance request. Notice of the meeting shall be published twenty (20) work days in advance of the meeting and shall include the text of the variance sought along with an explanation of the variance. Notice of the meeting shall also be given to the Commissioner of Education and to any recognized groups including parent and community groups, bargaining agents, and professional organizations whose interests would be directly affected by the granting of a variance.

(2) The Committee’s recommendation shall be forwarded to the Commissioner with a copy of the minutes of the meeting and with any written comments received concerning the proposed variance. The Commissioner, in his/her discretion, may direct the taking of further testimony.

(3) A grant or denial of the variance by the Commissioner shall be issued accompanied by a statement of the reason for the action taken. A variance may be granted to a part or to the whole request.

(4) A grant or denial of a variance may be appealed to the Board of Education under the
Provisions of Title 16 of the laws of Rhode Island relating to Education. (16-39-1,16-39-2)

Additional recourse


If the school committee’s budget is still not balanced after the Commissioner acts on its waiver and variance requests, the school committee may petition its appropriating authority for additional funds. If these funds are denied the school committee may file a court action to seek additional funding. (R.I.G.L.16-2-21.4(b)) 

For your convenience, we have collected all requests for waivers or variances, along with the Department’s response to each request. Available materials date from 2007 to the present.

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