Saturday, January 4, 2014
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Friday agreed to a second fine against Virginia Tech stemming from the April 2007 campus massacre that left 33 dead.
The $5,000 penalty follows a $27,500 fine Duncan approved against Tech in December 2012. The larger fine was assessed against Tech for failure to issue a timely warning on the morning of the April 16, 2007, shooting on the Blacksburg campus.
The latest fine is based on what federal education officials called Tech's inconsistent timely warning policies at the time of the shootings.
Both fines were issued under the federal Clery Act, which requires schools to issue timely warnings of campus threats.
In its 2007 Clery Act security report, the university said school police would issue warnings, but a separate internal policy that was not disclosed to students and employees assigned that duty to the university relations department in concert with police.
The Office of Federal Student Aid had sought a second $27,500 fine, but an administrative law judge reduced it to $5,000. The office argued that Tech's failure to have consistent timely warning policies warranted a "significant penalty."
Duncan settled on the smaller fine, concluding that the inconsistent policies were not an egregious violation of the Clery Act.
A spokesman for the university, Larry Hincker, said Tech would discuss the possibility of an appeal to the federal courts on both fines. As in the past, Hincker disputed Duncan's finding that Tech had not disclosed its internal policy.
The university's response to the 2007 rampage by student gunman Seung-Hui Cho has been strongly criticized by some of the victims' families. It was also the focus of a civil wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of two students slain in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The parents won the suit and were awarded $4 million each by jurors, but a judge reduced it to $100,000 for each. The wrongful death ruling was overturned by the state Supreme Court last year.
Attorneys for the parents had argued that if university officials had warned the campus of the first shootings on campus, their daughters might have survived the attack. The two were killed about 2 ½ hours after the first shootings. Cho killed himself after the shooting rampage.
Previously, Tech has criticized federal officials for not clearly defining what constitutes a timely warning.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap.