Lawyers for a residential special school say its enrolments are being limited by rules that could breach the Bill of Rights Act.
Salisbury School in Richmond, near Nelson, has just nine students, down from about 80 five years ago. It has taken legal advice because the government is considering closing it down.
Enrolments are limited to girls with an intellectual disability or autism who have challenging behaviour.
The school's lawyers said enrolments had plummeted because the rule excluded a lot of children with disabilities who might benefit from residential care.
The eligibility criteria are the same as for the ministry's new intensive service, which is being used instead of residential care for high-need children.
The school's board has published legal advice that says the behaviour requirement could be discriminatory and its lawyers said it potentially breached the Bill of Rights Act.
The ministry said it absolutely rejected any suggestion that its eligibility criteria were discriminatory.