AP Newsbreak: Feds to hear Va Tech appeal in Dec.

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Posted: Oct 20, 2011 9:25 AM
AP Newsbreak: Feds to hear Va Tech appeal in Dec.

The U.S. Department of Education has scheduled a December hearing to take up Virginia Tech's appeal of fines it received for failing to notify campus sooner during a 2007 shooting rampage in which a student killed 32 students and faculty.

Department spokeswoman Sara Gast said the hearing will take place Dec. 7-9. Several survivors and victims' family members plan to travel to Washington to testify.

The school appealed the $55,000 sanction in April. Virginia Tech officials have denied wrongdoing, saying the department is holding them to higher standards than were in place the day of the shootings.

"The relatively small monetary penalty is not the reason for this appeal," Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli said in a statement to the AP. "The university has already expended millions as a result of the tragedy. The main purpose of the appeal is to compel the federal Department of Education to treat Virginia Tech fairly and to apply a very poorly defined and subjectively applied federal law consistently and correctly."

The agency found Tech violated a federal campus safety law by waiting more than two hours after two students were shot to death before sending out a campus wide warning. By that time, student gunman Seung-Hui Cho was chaining shut the doors to a classroom building where he killed 30 more and then himself.

The department said Virginia Tech deserved a larger fine, but the $55,000 was the maximum allowed by law for two violations of the federal Clery Act, which requires campus notification of potential threats.

Tech was specifically charged with failure to issue a timely warning and failure to follow its own procedures for providing notification. The law is named after Jeanne Ann Clery, a 19-year-old college student who was raped and murdered in her dormitory in 1986.

"Based on what they knew at the time, law enforcement officers and the Virginia Tech administration acted appropriately," Cuccinelli said. "They did the best they could under the circumstances as they understood them. And that is the only fair standard by which their actions can be assessed."

School spokesman Larry Hincker said the university looks forward to making its case, that its actions were not only consistent with the federal guidelines but also with those of several other universities under similar circumstances up until that time.

Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was shot that morning but survived, plans to testify against the school. She questions why Virginia Tech would appeal the sanction.

"Virginia Tech has already been found in clear violation of the Clery Act. Appealing the fine is not going to eliminate that violation," she said. "They clearly did not follow the policies and procedures in place to timely warn students of an emergency on campus and are wasting time and money and energy on an appeal.

"It's not going to change what happened that day."

If the school does not like the verdict of the secretary of education on the administrative appeal, it could challenge the decision in federal court.

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Associated Press writer Dena Potter can be reached at www.twitter.com/DenaPotterAP