Background Checks for Volunteers

Keeping Students Safe

SPS is committed to providing students with a safe educational environment. We are also required by law to complete a criminal background check for every volunteer. Volunteer applicants must be screened using an approved criminal background check method prior to beginning service. 

Every year over 20,000 family and community volunteers serve in SPS schools. Our volunteer background check requirements are shaped by:

  • SPS risk management and volunteer insurance policy with the Washington Schools Risk Management Pool,
  • RCW 43.43.830 – Background checks—Access to children or vulnerable persons

and are reflected in Policy No. 5005 “Unsupervised volunteers screening”

Background Check Levels

We utilize two background check levels: 

  • State background checks are free and apply to over 90% of Category A volunteers.
  • Online out-of-state background checks usually cost $21 and are used for some Category A volunteers and all Category B volunteers.

A. State background check

If you have lived in Washington State for the past three (3) years, we will use the Washington State Patrol’s database known as WATCH to run your background check (no action is needed on your end). Normally, those background checks cost $11 each, however, Washington State makes them available to schools (and non-profits) at no charge. 

B. National background check

The following circumstances require a one-time, $21 national background check:

  • Volunteer applicant has lived in the U.S. for the past three (3) years, including in states outside Washington*.
  • Volunteer will regularly work with students while unsupervised regardless of how long the volunteer has resided in Washington State (Category B school or remote volunteers).
  • All sports volunteer applicants**.
  • Overnight field trip chaperones if the field trip is 3 nights or longer.
  • Volunteer applicant resides in another state (national background check required every two years) *

* Volunteers who reside in another state must complete a new national background check every two years. 

** Individual schools coordinate and screen volunteer applications for all sports that are not handled by SPS Athletics, including club sports: HS Ultimate Frisbee, HS Cheer, HS Lacrosse, Dance, and Water polo. Athletic sports are all disciplines coordinated by the SPS Athletics Department – volunteers must apply through that department (do not use the regular SPS Volunteer Application process).

National background check options

  1. SPS has partnered with Sterling Volunteers (formerly Verified Volunteers) to offer volunteer applicants affordable, secure and convenient background checks online ($21). If in the past you resided in the State of New York, Sterling Volunteers transaction total will include an extra $95 charge required by that jurisdiction. You will be able to cancel the order and consider the following alternative.
  2. For former residents of New York State and applicants who prefer to not complete their national background check online, we have fingerprinting services available at the John Stanford Center – cost for this service is approximately $60; prior appointment is required; results are available two weeks after the appointment. Email volunteer@seattleschools.org for instructions.

How to purchase an online Sterling Volunteers background check

  • Log into the SPS volunteer portal
  • Click “Edit or Renew Volunteer Application” on the left
  • Go to a section titled “Determining Your Background Check” and select option “B. I was recruited to serve as a Category B volunteer.”
  • Scroll to the bottom of the page and save the application.
  • An email from our national background check vendor Sterling Volunteers will arrive in your inbox shortly – check your “junk/spam/bulk” folder if you can’t locate it.
  • Follow included instructions. Sterling Volunteers will notify you as soon as your background check is complete (usually 1-2 days). 

C. Volunteers who recently returned to or arrived in the U.S.

If you lived abroad in the past three (3) years and have a social security number, you will need to purchase a one-time international background check ($31 fee) instead of the national background check. 

How to purchase your international background check

  • Begin your online order – you may be prompted to enter a special code – it is ye427g5
  • Use your current U.S. address in the web form (no addresses outside of U.S.).
  • No social security number? Contact us for assistance.
  • International background checks can be substituted by a recent (two years) U.S. Embassy-issued visa type J, F, H, green card, etc. Tourist visas do not qualify. 

Why is there a fee for background checks?

Unfortunately, WATCH does not provide criminal records from other states, and unlike Washington State, the federal government does not provide schools with free screening tools. SPS selected an online vendor to offer affordable national screens for volunteers. 

  • A man convicted of child abuse in Oregon applies to tutor SPS students at Cascade Elementary School.
  • Mom of a 4th grader volunteers as a field trip driver. Two years ago, she was convicted of a DUI in California.

Both volunteer applicants would easily pass the WATCH background check. 

Background check affordability

Every parent or caretaker should have the opportunity to participate in their student’s education.

  • Schools can cover background check fees for low-income families using operating or program budgets, request PTA assistance or seek grant/private funds for this purpose. Field trip related background check fees can be covered through the trip budget.
  • If the background check fee is causing financial hardship for you, please contact your school office (refer to contact list) and ask if they set a budget for volunteer background checks. If so, please have them contact the Volunteer Services Program Administrator to set up a free background check for you.


Volunteer applications and background checks are confidential. Each school principal designates a volunteer program liaison to process them.

Thank you for helping us create a safe educational environment!