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A state commission that investigated the shootings also found that the university erred by failing to notify the campus sooner. The state reached an $11 million settlement with many of the victims’ families. Two families have sued and are seeking $10 million in damages from university officials. That case is set for trial this fall.

Virginia Tech argues that, relying on campus police, it first thought the shootings were domestic and that a suspect had been identified, so there was no threat to campus. The university argued that the Department of Education didn’t define “timely” until 2009, when it added regulations because of the Virginia Tech shootings.

University spokesman Larry Hincker outlined six other serious cases at other college campuses before and after the Virginia Tech shootings in which notifications were not given for hours, or in some instances the next day, and the schools were not punished.

“The only reason we want to appeal this is that it gives us the process to explain how a notice given on one campus can be OK if it’s this long, and a notice given on another campus is not OK if it’s this short a time period,” he said. “As best we can tell, it’s whatever DOE decides after the fact.”

The Education Department rebuffed that argument, saying officials should have treated it as a threat because the shooter was on the loose.

If the school loses the appeal, it could fight the fine in court. The money goes back to the Department of Education.

Several victims’ family members criticized Virginia Tech for saying it would appeal.

“This is in black and white,” said Suzanne Grimes, whose son Kevin Sterne was injured in the shootings. “They’re going to spend more money appealing it than just paying the fine, because they do not want to admit they did anything wrong.”

Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was shot but survived, said she was not surprised by the maximum fine.

“I feel like it’s par for the course, if you will, for what they are allowed to do,” she said. “I think it is a woefully, woefully, woefully sad amount of money for the staggering loss of life.”

Mr. Carter, the campus safety advocate, said he hopes the fine — no matter how small — will get the attention of other campus officials.

“A strong message has been sent that Clery compliance is important and that institutions have to have good policies, publicize those policies and follow those polices,” Mr. Carter said. “That’s what Virginia Tech didn’t do.”

Associated Press writer Larry O’Dell contributed to this report.