Advertising at school not illegal
As I was driving by Ala Wai Elementary School, I noticed that it had a sign advertising for Kumon. My understanding is that Kumon is a private tutorial service separate from the Department of Education. Is the advertising legal there?
Answer: It's moot now because the sign is no longer there.
But you pose an interesting question, so we tried to find out the answer, which took a while.
If the sign were promoting an ongoing business operation, it would have required a permit. "No permit, not legal," said Art Challacombe, customer services manager for the city Department of Planning and Permitting. He was the last person we contacted.
We first contacted the school, got no response, then the Department of Education.
There is nothing in the department's administrative rules that "would relate to that" kind of concern or specifically forbid such advertising, said spokesman Greg Knudsen.
Ala Wai rents a classroom to Kumon, which then charges a fee to students for tutoring.
Schools not only are allowed to rent out their facilities, buildings and grounds to outside groups or businesses, but are encouraged to do so to generate revenues, Knudsen said.
"In this particular case, it also provides an educational resource to the students," he said. While the tutoring by Kumon is not free, "it's very convenient that it's there on campus for them."
Knudsen said questions about similar signs at other schools, involving not just Kumon, but churches, have been posed before, and concerns have been resolved informally.
We also checked with the state Department of Accounting and General Services, which oversees many state facilities and buildings.
The Department of Education is responsible for determining the policy at public schools for such matters as advertising, said state Comptroller Russ Saito, head of DAGS. (In a related matter, he said commercial signs in DAGS parking lots will come down June 30; see "Kokua Line," Nov. 27, 2005.)
However, Saito said he thought the state's anti-billboard law (Chapter 445-112.3 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes) could come into play in this case because the sign is on a fence, rather than on the classroom building.
That led us to the Outdoor Circle, which led the fight for Hawaii's billboard law years ago.
"It is true that schools are able to display some materials that might not be legally displayed elsewhere," said spokesman Bob Loy. "However, our understanding is that this would not cover signs advertising commercial ventures such as Kumon."
While schools sometimes might need to display temporary banners and signs related to school events and activities, "we do not believe our schools should be used as an advertising platform for commercial advertising, and that these displays should be kept to a minimum," Loy said.
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