OUR VIEW: Who's interacting with your child?

   There are monsters among us. That may sound harsh and dramatic, but it’s sadly true.
   The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office daily is working on dozens of cases – with help from the Cherokee County Department of Social Services and HAVEN Children’s Advocacy Center – involving people who commit heinous crimes against children.
   Some of those people are innocent, but some of them are guilty. Some of them serve prison time, then have to be registered as sex offenders for life.
   That’s a lifetime brand. While it’s sad for the offenders and their families, it has proven to be a necessary precaution. Our children need our protection, and it is up to the entire community to work together to ensure that protection.
   Take a recent case at a Cherokee County school.
   A suspect was arrested in 2013 and, as seems to be negative tradition around these mountains, waited four years for a trial. While out on bail, this suspect – whose name we are withholding so as not to bring any more unwanted attention to his family and friends – was free to walk around at school functions, among children the same age and younger as the victim in his case.
   For four years, this man walked among our children. He wasn’t on the sex offender registry because he was still innocent until proven guilty, as is his constitutional right. However, it’s also our right as a community to have all the information we need to be safe.
   Between his arrest and the eventual trial this summer, so much time passed that we have a new superintendent, a new sheriff and even a new principal at the school where this man roamed. It’s easy for things to fall between the cracks when things change, but this kind of thing is too important to keep allowing it to happen.
   Evidently, the magistrate’s bail order did not bar the suspect from school grounds, so no laws were being violated. But the magistrates and sheriff’s office personnel should have been up-front with all the administrators, counselors and teachers of that school so they could at least be aware of the situation.
   Superintendent Jeana Conley was not aware of this man’s case while he was free, but she wants to know in the future. She plans to approach the district attorney’s office about staying in the loop on future cases that affect the school system.
   Four years is a long time, but after being found guilty this man’s sentence is significantly longer. And when he gets out, he will be on the sex offender registry forever. By then, your kids will have their own kids – and they likely will need even more protection, too.
   The schools do extensive background checks on those who volunteer as coaches or assist with field trips and educational ventures. However, they do not check every parent, every uncle and every friend.
   It’s up to court and law enforcement officials to work with educators so we know who we are dealing with, even as they await trial. No one should publicly shame suspects – they have just been charged with a crime, not convicted – but those who are tasked to guard our children are on a need-to-know basis.
   If you want to check the sex offender registry near where you live or your school, go to http://sexoffender.ncsbi.gov/search.aspx.