Disability advocates are crying foul after some school districts sought flexibility under federal education rules, a move they say could prove harmful to students with disabilities.

Many states have received waivers in recent years alleviating them from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. But after California was denied a waiver, several school districts within the state banded together earlier this year to ask the U.S. Department of Education to grant them exemptions independent of the state.

That isn’t sitting well with disability and civil rights advocates who are concerned that without statewide standards, the bar could be lowered for students in special education.

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In a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this week, eight groups including Easter Seals, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates and the National Center for Learning Disabilities are urging the Obama administration to decline requests for flexibility at the school-district level, insisting that statewide standards are best.

“Moving away from a system of statewide accountability and state-led commitment to improving student outcomes will result in different expectations for students from one district to the next,” the letter reads. “Considerable experience tells us that for low-income students, students of color, Native students, English language learners and students with disabilities, different expectations far too often means lowered expectations.”

The Education Department said in March that it would review the California school districts’ request, but noted a “strong preference” to work with states to enhance flexibility. At the same time, the agency indicated that in order to receive a waiver, “districts must meet a high bar, similar to the one the department has set for states.”