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Virgina Tech unlawfully failed to notify students of shooting: report

Officials at Virginia Tech [university website] acted unlawfully by waiting too long to notify students during the 2007 shootings [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive], according to a report [text, PDF; materials] released Thursday by the US Department of Education [official website]. According to the report, Virginia Tech officials failed to comply with the Clery Act [20 USC § 1092(f) text], which requires universities to disclose crime statistics and communication information about campus safety. The report found:

Virgina Tech failed to comply with the requirements relating to a timely warning ... in response to the shootings on campus on April 16, 2007. There are two aspects to this violation. First, the warnings that were issued by the University were not prepared or disseminated in a manner to give clear and timely notice of the threat to the health and safety of campus community members. Second, Virginia Tech did not follow its own policy for the issuance of timely warnings as published in its annual campus security reports.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted [press release], "[w]hile 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."

Virginia Tech has faced several lawsuits over the shooting incident. Last month, a Virginia circuit court judge ruled that a lawsuit by two families whose children were killed in shooting can proceed against school administrators, despite their claims of sovereign immunity. The lawsuit [JURIST report], seeking $10 million in damages, accuses the administrators of gross negligence for failing to warn students of the shootings immediately after the first shooting at 7:15 AM. It is being brought by two families who opted out of an $11 million dollar settlement [JURIST report] to which 24 of the 32 victims' families agreed in June 2008. The settlement gave each family $100,000 plus medical expenses and provided for meetings with Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and Virginia Tech administration and police officials. Many of the families had considered wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits against the state of Virginia after an independent state panel reported that different school policies could have avoided some of the deaths, but the settlement terms required the families to release their claims. In December 2007, Congress passed by voice vote an act that closes a loophole [JURIST report] that allowed Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho to purchase firearms despite a court order mandating psychiatric treatment. The Virginia Tech shootings left 33 people dead and 25 wounded in the deadliest shooting incident in US history [WP backgrounder].

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