Virginia Tech fined $5,000 for safety law breach in case related to 2007 massacre

The federal government has fined Virginia Tech $5,000 for a violation of a campus safety law in connection with the 2007 massacre at the public university in Blacksburg.

The fine, ordered Friday by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, follows a finding that the university had inconsistent policies on the timely warning of safety threats and failed to disclose one of them as required under the federal Clery Act. The fine is lower than the maximum possible, $27,500.

“Virginia Tech’s transgression is not of the same gravity as other violations that come under the Clery Act’s purview and thus does not warrant a similarly severe penalty,” Duncan wrote.

In 2012, Duncan fined Virginia Tech $27,500 for another violation of the law after finding that the school failed to issue a timely warning to the campus on April 16, 2007, as a gunman was on the loose.

The gunman, Seung Hui Cho, shot and killed 32 people before killing himself.

Virginia Tech has denied wrongdoing, and school officials have said they are weighing a possible challenge to the fines in federal court. Families of the victims have contended that school officials could have saved many lives by locking down the campus early on the day of the shootings.

Clery Act proceedings stemming from the massacre have been unfolding over the past few years. Initially, the government levied fines totaling $55,000 against Virginia Tech. Friday’s ruling limits the total to $32,500.

In October, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned a jury verdict in a wrongful-death lawsuit, ruling that “there was no duty for the commonwealth to warn students about the potential for criminal acts” by Cho after he shot two students in a dormitory.

Last month, Virginia Tech’s governing board named a successor to outgoing President Charles W. Steger, who has led the 31,205-student school since January 2000. Timothy D. Sands, provost of Purdue University, will take office at Virginia Tech on June 1.

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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