COLLEGE PARK, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - A campus safety expert and architect of several pieces of federal legislation aimed at campus safety says the University of Maryland may have violated provisions of a federal law when they waited to tell the campus about last fall's adenovirus outbreak.
S. Daniel Carter is president of Safe Campuses LLC and has spent decades advocating for campus safety reforms. Carter says a little understood section of the Clery Act, which guides colleges and universities in the reporting of crime and safety information, requires immediate notification of health threats.
"If there's an outbreak of mold or virus the Clery Act also requires colleges and universities to have a system to identify the threat and then notify that segment of the community that's at risk," said Carter.
The act says schools must "immediately notify the campus community upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students..."
The Department of Education's Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting gives examples like a "outbreak of meningitis, norovirus or other serious illness."
In a statement to FOX 5, the university denied Carter's assessment. "A common virus that is present in the community year-round does not trigger Clery Act notification. UMD has not violated the Clery Act," said a university spokeswoman.
The university also points out it notified the campus community within 24 hours after the CDC confirmed the outbreak of the dangerous adenovirus 7 strain on November 19.
In emails obtained first by the Washington Post, it was clear officials knew about the first serious case of adenovirus among a student on November 1. Olivia Paregol, whose immune system was compromised because of medication for Crohn's disease, died on November 18.
The Department of Education has not responded to questions from FOX 5 about whether the university's notification choices about adenovirus are under investigation.
Paregol's father maintains Olivia would have likely survived if UMD officials reported the adenovirus cases earlier and her doctors knew about the outbreak. The family has put the university on notice that it may take up a lawsuit.