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updated 5/18/2010 6:13:11 PM ET 2010-05-18T22:13:11

The U.S. Department of Education found that Virginia Tech broke federal campus security laws by waiting too long to notify students during the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history, a report released Tuesday said.

Tech disputed the department's findings, saying university officials met standards in effect at the time of the shootings three years ago and that the report is colored by "hindsight bias."

The report is the latest to criticize the school's response to the killings of 33 people, including the student gunman, on April 16, 2007.

The school could be fined up to $55,000 for two violations alleged in the preliminary report, but no one will face criminal charges, according to the Tech official who drafted the response. Federal officials will consider a response from the school before they finalize their conclusion.

The Department of Education's report said Tech violated the Clery Act's requirement that universities offer a timely warning when possible danger arises. About two hours elapsed between the shootings of two students at a dormitory and an e-mail alert to the campus, sent at 9:26 a.m.

The massacre in a classroom building began at 9:40 a.m. when a mentally ill gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, chained the doors and killed 30 more people before committing suicide.

The delay was previously criticized in a state report and has drawn the ire of victims' families.

The Department of Education said the warnings "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."

The university countered that before the shootings on its campus, the department had never defined what "timely" meant in the Clery Act. Tech said the standard in effect at the time allowed university officials to use their best judgment after consulting with law enforcement, which they did.

A national nonprofit organization, Security On Campus, had asked the department to investigate whether Tech violated the Clery Act. The department issued the report to Tech in January, but the university declined to release the report until it prepared a response.

The Department of Education will take the university's response into consideration in drafting a final report, Tech spokesman Larry Hincker said.

The state's own report criticized the university's failure to act on warning signs from Cho's behavior before the shootings, as well as communications failures and other problems that allowed the delay between the first gunshots and campus-wide notification.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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