Today the Education Department fined Virginia Teach $55,000, the maximum amount allowed, for failing to adequately warn the campus that a shooter might be on the loose prior to the April 16, 2007 massacre that left 30 dead.
The Washington Post reports that school officials were aware that Seung Hui Cho's first two victims had been found in a dormitory by 8:11 a.m., yet they didn't send a campuswide email until 9:26, and even then it didn't say there had been a murder or recommend any safety measures. Around 9:45, Cho opened fire in an academic building.
The families of two students who were killed are suing school officials for failing to warn people on campus about the shootings, and the government finding bolsters their case. A lawyer for the families said,
"Instead of telling them the truth, they sent out a plain vanilla warning and decided to tell the faculty and students as little as possible ... What was their explanation for not telling the truth? Why not put that out? What's the downside?"
A Virginia Tech spokesman said the school plans to appeal the decision, adding:
"We believe that Virginia Tech administrators acted appropriately in their response to the tragic events of April 16, 2007, based on the best information then available to them at the time."
At this point, haggling over a few thousand dollars seems a bit pointless. The federal findings probably won't be admitted into evidence in the cases against the school officials, though the families consider the fines a moral victory. The administrators's hesitation may have put more students in harms way, but it's also possible Cho would have found other victims. Hopefully schools have learned to respond more quickly during similar incidents, but Virginia Tech paying a paltry fine won't increase campus safety.
Timing Of Va. Tech's Warnings During Massacre Leads To $55,000 Penalty [Washington Post]