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Judge overturns Virginia Tech campus warning system fine

An administrative judge for the Department of Education [official website] overturned [order, PDF] a $55,000 fine issued against Virginia Tech for its response to the shootings in 2007 [NYT backgrounder]. Judge Ernest Canellos ruled that the university's warning system did not violate the Clery Act [text], which sets regulations on how and when schools are required to warn students regarding potential threats. At issue was the timing of the warning e-mail sent out by the university. The warning was sent to students after the shooter had already began shooting, but the warning e-mail said nothing about actual shootings and mentioned only the possibility that a shooting incident had occurred. Virginia Tech administrators were pleased with the ruling [press release] and expressed hope that "lessons from this unforeseeable crime will continue to inform the practices affecting campus safety throughout the nation and the world." The ruling, subject to a potential appeal, relieves Virginia Tech of liability under the Clery Act.

The decision comes only two weeks after a jury found for families of 2 victims in a negligence case against the Virginia Tech administration [JURIST report]. Virginia Tech has faced several lawsuits over the shooting incident. Last month, a Virginia circuit court judge ruled [JURIST report] that the lawsuit by two families whose children were killed in the shooting could proceed against school administrators, despite their claims of sovereign immunity. The lawsuit [JURIST report], seeking $10 million in damages, accused the administrators of gross negligence for failing to warn students of the shootings immediately after the first shooting at 7:15 AM. It was 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.

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