- Associated Press - Thursday, December 9, 2010

RICHMOND, Va.Virginia Tech could be fined or lose federal aid because it broke the law by waiting too long to notify students during a 2007 shooting rampage, according to a federal report issued Thursday.

The U.S Department of Education had found in January that the school violated federal law with its response during the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, but gave Tech a chance to respond to the finding in its preliminary report. Federal officials rebuffed Tech’s arguments that it met standards in place at the time in Thursday’s final report.

“While Virginia Tech failed to adequately warn students that day, we recognize that the university has put far-reaching changes in place since that time to help improve campus safety and better protect its students and community,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

The university disputed the findings, and spokesman Larry Hincker said the school likely will appeal the decision. School officials have said that a finding that the school broke the law wouldn’t result in criminal charges for any individuals.

The department found that the university violated the Clery Act because it failed to issue a timely warning after a gunman killed two students in a dormitory early on April 17, 2007. The school sent out an e-mail about the shootings about two hours later, but by that time the student gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, was chaining shut the doors to a classroom building where he killed 30 more students and faculty, then himself.

Hincker said neither the department nor the Clery Act defined “timely,” and that other institutions have waited much longer to inform students after violent acts on campus. He said the university is being held accountable for federal standards that were adopted after the shootings.

“Both the law and purposeful reasoned analysis require that the actions of that day be evaluated according to the information that was available to the university and its professionals at that time,” Hincker said. “Anything else loses sight of the unthinkable and unprecedented nature of what occurred.”