Volunteer Handbook

Thank you for your interest in volunteering in Seattle Public Schools! You are making an important contribution to our school district and its students, and we want you to know that we value your time, energy and expertise.

Purpose of School Volunteer Programs

  • To support academic achievement and district goals, to assist teachers in providing basic skills instruction, to enrich quality of instruction, to enhance interpersonal experiences for students, and to assist school staff with support services.
  • To increase children’s motivation for learning.
  • To support the dropout prevention program by providing supplementary instruction such as, but not limited to, tutoring/mentoring.
  • To build an understanding of school programs among interested citizens and business/community organization partnerships.
  • To strengthen school/parent/community relations through positive participation.
  • To promote parent involvement by actively supporting and seeking collaboration with PTA, school/community advisory councils, and other parent groups.
  • To enhance district educational programs, not to displace district employees.

Being a Volunteer

Volunteering in a school is a unique and exciting experience and a benefit to both the school and the volunteer. It is designed to promote and maintain a supportive relationship between students, their schools and their community.

Volunteers should be:

  • Friendly and caring.
  • Reliable and flexible.
  • Understanding and appreciative of the work of the school staff and the volunteer program.

Volunteers should have:

  • A professional attitude and an ability to work cooperatively with school staff.
  • Interest in working with young people.
  • Good moral character.
  • Time and willingness to serve.
  • An understanding of the important role that education plays in the lives of children and our communities.

Please keep in mind that volunteering will involve learning new skills and learning about students. The school’s role, and therefore the role of the school volunteer, is always to improve the academic achievement of our students. We do this in a variety of ways including academic instruction and personal support.

2019-24 Seattle Public Schools Strategic Plan

Seattle Public Schools is committed to making sure every student graduates prepared for college, a career, and community participation. Seattle Excellence, our five-year strategic plan is focused on supporting students of color who are furthest away from educational justice. Volunteering with SPS provides families and community members opportunities to participate in this effort by:

  • volunteering as reading tutors to support the 3rd-grade reading goal and our Seattle Super Readers,
  • creating safe and welcoming school communities,
  • growing cultural responsiveness as part of their volunteer service.

Educational and Racial Equity

Video Transcript:

To underscore the importance Seattle School District places on equal educational opportunities, Policy 0030 ensures Educational and Racial Equity for every student. This includes cultural literacy expectations for staff.

This policy states that the Seattle School Board is committed to the success of every student in each of our schools and to achieving our mission of ensuring that all students graduate ready for college, career and life.

We believe that the responsibility for student success is broadly shared by District Staff, administrators, instructors, communities and families.

We are focused on increasing academic achievement for every student while closing the opportunity gaps and creating learning communities that provide support and academic enrichment programs for all students.

We have historically underserved specific populations of students and we must address this issue to eliminate disproportionality in education and in all aspects of its administration.

The concept of educational equity goes beyond formal equality where all students are treated the same to fostering a barrier-free environment where all students, regardless of their race, class or other personal characteristics have the opportunity to benefit equally.

Ensuring Educational and Racial Equity School Board Policy #0030

Seattle Public Schools has made eight commitments to the success of every student in each of our schools.

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Equitable Access The district shall provide every student with equitable access to a high-quality curriculum, support, facilities and other educational resources, even when this means differentiating resource allocation.

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Racial Equity Analysis The district shall review existing policies, programs, professional development and procedures to ensure the promotion of Racial Equity, and all applicable new policies, programs and procedures will be developed using a racial equity analysis tool.

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Workforce Equity The district shall actively work to have the teacher and administrator workforce be balanced and reflect the diversity of the student body. The district shall recruit, employ, support and retain a workforce that includes racial, gender, and linguistic diversity, as well as culturally competent administrative, instructional and support personnel.

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Professional Development The district shall provide professional development to strengthen employees· knowledge and skills for eliminating opportunity gaps and other disparities in achievement.

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Welcoming School Environments The district shall ensure that each school creates a welcoming culture and inclusive environment that reflects and supports the diversity of the district’s student population, their families and community.

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Partnerships The district will include other partners who have demonstrated culturally specific expertise -including families, government agencies, institutes of higher learning, early childhood education organizations, community-based organizations, businesses, and the community in general – in meeting our high goals for educational outcomes.

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Multiple Pathways to Success The district shall provide multiple pathways to success in order to meet the needs of the diverse student body, and shall actively encourage, support and expect high academic achievement for all students.

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Recognizing Diversity Consistent with state regulations and district policy and within budgetary considerations, the district shall provide materials and assessments that reflect the diversity of students and staff, and which are geared towards the understanding and appreciation of culture, class, language, ethnicity and other differences that contribute to the uniqueness of each student and staff member.

Becoming a Volunteer

To begin volunteering with the school district, you must follow the volunteer applicant district requirements. Once approved, you must:

  1. ALWAYS sign in and out through the school office when you come to the school. (This is an important procedure for the safety of our children and it allows us to track your hours for insurance and district information purposes.)
  2. Wear a name badge when volunteering.

Volunteer Responsibilities

Volunteering in schools strengthens family engagement and provides community members with valuable opportunities for personal and professional growth. Please review the following volunteer responsibilities carefully – they are informed by state and federal laws, district policies, and were created to ensure safe, predictable and positive learning environments for students: 

  1. Prior to volunteering, volunteers must submit the SPS online volunteer application, complete Adult Sexual Misconduct Prevention Training, and meet criteria for background check clearance.
  2. Seattle Public Schools students come from many different families, cultures, and communities. We celebrate diversity and nurture cultural and ethnic pride in our students. Please listen and learn about the backgrounds and values of students you interact with. Do not impose your personal values and beliefs onto the students.
  3. Positive relationships allow students to learn and thrive. Help staff create affirming learning communities by knowing and caring for the students you volunteer with.
  4. Choose a commitment level you can keep. Students and staff count on volunteer tutors and classroom helpers to be dependable and regular in attendance. Volunteers who miss shifts or resign early cause confusion among students and create distrust towards volunteers in general. For classroom volunteers, SPS strongly recommends a minimum three-month commitment. Some schools offer one-day or project-based volunteer opportunities for community members who prefer shorter-term engagement.
  5. Sign in and sign out; wear a school/department issued volunteer badge at all times.
  6. Volunteers are important role model for students. Familiarize yourself with the SPS Basic Rules and your school’s values and expectations of students.
  7. Support and supplement the instructional program of the classroom teacher. The volunteer’s role is assistance.
  8. Engage with students in a respectful and age appropriate manner and maintain the highest professional, moral and ethical standards in your interaction with students (Policy 5253).
  9. Know and observe all regulations and procedures in the school building (i.e. fire drills, accident reporting, lunch and coffee privileges, student restroom and drink privileges, inclement weather procedures).
  10. Respect confidentiality with relationship to the school. Ensure that a child’s work and behavior in school are held in confidence. If your volunteer role involves contact with SPS families, the same confidentiality expectations apply. 
  11. Do not take or post photos or share descriptions of students on personal websites or social media accounts. Exception: volunteer is the student’s parent/guardian.
  12. Do not engage in commercial, political, or religious solicitation of students or staff.
  13. Do not bring minors, including own children, when volunteering at the school or during school-sponsored events or field trips.
  14. Do not share your contact information with students, including social media information.
  15. Discuss problems that arise with your point staff member.
  16. Report suspected abuse or neglect immediately to your point staff member, the principal, or another school district employee. Staff will do reporting and follow-up.

Remote Volunteers

Find out how to become a remote/virtual volunteer!

Logistics & Safety

  • Remote volunteers can interact with SPS students via the SPS Microsoft Teams account only.
  • Volunteer sessions must be scheduled by the school’s designated remote volunteer program coordinator or teacher.
  • Volunteer email in invitations must match email in their volunteer application.
  • Volunteer must ensure no one else has the ability to join an online session with the student using their device.
  • Parent/guardian is included in session invitations to have the ability to pop in or observe sessions.
  • Each session with student(s) must be concluded by completing a session report provided by the teacher. 

Student Privacy & Confidentiality

  • Remember that all SPS volunteers, including remote volunteers, must keep student’s information confidential.
  • Do not discuss your students with friends, partner/spouse, etc.
  • Do not save photos of the sessions (screenshots) or record sessions on your personal device, do not keep student-identifiable documents or notes.
  • Do not exchange contact or social media information with the student.


  • SPS staff may request that the volunteer records session segments for SPS review and/or records. If this explicit request is made, built-in MS Teams recording feature must be used. These recordings are stored on SPS servers, not the volunteer’s device.
  • SPS staff may take photos or video-record volunteer/student sessions for evaluation and training purposes and to promote remote volunteering.

Presentation & Environment

  • Be aware of your physical presentation on screen and your surroundings.
  • Dress appropriately as you would when volunteering in a school building.
  • Make sure the background you are standing in front of is appropriate and not too distracting for the student.
  • If screen sharing educational materials, please ensure the student will not be exposed to any inappropriate or distracting content on your desktop.

Volunteering in-person during COVID

If you were recruited to volunteer with SPS in-person during COVID, please review our COVID safety web page for volunteers. 

Volunteers have the right to:

  1. Know as much about the school as possible, including its policies, its people and its programs.
  2. Training for the job and continuing education that is thoughtfully planned and effectively presented. Information about new developments and training for greater responsibility should follow periodically.
  3. Sound guidance and direction by someone who is experienced, informed, patient, thoughtful and has the time to invest in giving guidance.
  4. A suitable assignment with consideration for personal preference, temperament, life experience, education and employment background.
  5. A variety of experiences, through transfer of one activity to another, and through special project assignments.
  6. Be heard, have a part in planning, feel free to make suggestions, and have respect shown for an honest opinion or different perspective.
  7. Recognition through day-by-day expression of appreciation, or some tangible evidence by being treated as a co-worker. 

Student Confidentiality

  • Students in Seattle Public Schools have the right to expect that information about them will be kept confidential.
  • All information contained within a student’s educational record is considered confidential and protected by a federal law, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), 20 U.S.C. Section 1232g.
  • Volunteers are expected to maintain student confidentiality.
  • If the volunteer’s role involves contact with SPS families (e.g. family tech support, outreach, supplies delivery), volunteers are also required to keep that information confidential.

Each student you work with has the right to expect that nothing that happens to or about him or her will be repeated to anyone other than authorized school department employees, as designated by the administrators at your volunteer site. You may NOT share information about a student with anyone, including your best friend, significant other, or individuals who are genuinely interested in the student’s welfare, such as social workers, scout leaders, clergy, grandparents, or nurses/physicians. Thus, you must refer all such questions to authorized school employees, typically the student’s teacher or principal.

Information about a student may be communicated to school staff and school administration. Information shall be communicated immediately if it is a medical emergency OR if a student shares information that indicates a threat of imminent physical injury to the student or others. Before you speak about a student to another person, remember that violating a student’s confidentiality is not only impolite; it’s also against the law.

Student Safety and Your Liability

Where should I work with a student?

Locations will vary, depending upon availability and the preference of the student’s teacher. Many schools are crowded, so you may end up working with the student in the hallway. Try to find a quiet space with as few distractions as possible.

Sometimes a teacher will direct you to an empty classroom. Be sure to leave the door open at all times, and to sit in two desks which are easily seen by those passing by. Always work in a public area, on site.

If you are working with a student in an after school program, it may be tempting to offer the student a ride home. Never go off site with a student, and never give them a ride in your car. Your volunteer experience is limited to the public school setting.

What are my confidentiality rights?

As the relationship with a student progresses, he/she will begin to trust you and may start to confide in you. You should take time to listen and show them that you care about them. However, do not make a promise you cannot keep. If a student reveals information relating to a possible abusive situation, let the student know that you care and are there to listen but that you are required to pass this information on to a teacher, counselor, or principal who can offer them help. There is also a chance that someone may already have insight into the situation, which could help you to understand and work better with that student.

Personal information about yourself should be shared only as it is relevant to the work you are doing with the student. Avoid giving personal contact information such as your address, phone, and email.

Video Transcript:

Maintaining Professional Staff/Student Boundaries 
The School Board expects all staff and volunteers to maintain the highest professional, moral and ethical standards in their interaction with students.

One way to maintain appropriate boundaries is refrain from engaging in social media communications with your students, for example –  Facebook.  Also refrain from one-to-one texting or from emailing a student from your private email account.

Can I hug my student?

Some students, especially at the elementary level, will naturally become attached and show affection. Students may crave affection and attention, so it is important that you handle the situation with sensitivity. A front hug is inappropriate and should be avoided. So carefully put your arm around a child’s shoulder and turn it into a side hug. Use other signs of affection, such as “high fives”, and remember the appropriate places to touch students (see next section). In addition, regardless of age, students should never sit on your lap.

What are some safer touch areas?*

Areas that are safest to touch are:

  • Shoulders
  • Upper Back
  • Arms
  • Hands

Remember to keep in mind the cultural perspective and personal context of touch from the student’s perspective. Cultural influences, beliefs and personal history affects a student’s comfort level regarding personal boundaries. Some children are not inviting of touch and may want more personal space; respect their wishes. In general, touch all students in a consistent manner.

* Special circumstances will arise where touch that exceeds these guidelines will be necessary. Special education, nursing and coaching may require additional student contact for the health and hygiene needs of the student. Be clear (to yourself and the student) about when, where, why and how you are touching the student.

What are some signs of possible child abuse?

The following factors may be present when abuse has occurred, but do not guarantee an abusive situation. If any of the following signs are present in your child, you are required to alert the teacher, principal, or counselor so that they can further investigate the situation:

  • Signs of injury, such as welts, bruising, cuts, burns, fractures, or swellings.
  • A history of repeated, untreated, or unexplained physical injury.
  • A contradiction between the story, “I fell off my bed”, and the physical evidence, such as repeated bruising.
  • The child appears to be uncomfortable or fearful when talking about the injury.
  • Child alludes to or seems preoccupied with sexual matters.

What is the purpose of these rules?

The Seattle School District wants you, as volunteers, to carry out your responsibilities in a caring and appropriate manner. We want you to feel comfortable about hugging and touching kids and we want you to feel safe and to have guidelines that will assist you in creating and maintaining a safer environment for you and the students you work with.

Volunteer Placement Checklist

Printable resource for volunteers and educators: Volunteer placement sheet

  • When you first meet with your teacher/supervisor, plan to discuss the following:
    Days and times to work in classroom/school.
  • Procedures for volunteer and teacher/supervisor to keep in touch (regular conferences, telephone conversations, notes, informal meetings).
  • Alternate plans for days when the teacher/supervisor is absent.
  • How the teacher/supervisor will tell volunteer of the day’s assignment (folder, note or other means).
  • How the students will address the volunteer (school or volunteer’s preference of having students use first name or Mr. /Ms. /Mrs.).
  • Materials, strategies or games to be used.
  • Teacher/supervisor’s classroom/school policies, procedures and rules (such as management system, reinforcement techniques, organizational plans, emergency procedures, where volunteer leaves personal belongings, and whether volunteer is welcome in teachers’ lounge and lunchroom).
  • Dates of required and suggested trainings.
  • Protocol for informing school/teacher/student about volunteer absence.

If you work on academic areas with students, you should also discuss:

  • Pertinent background information about the student(s) the volunteer will work with (within the appropriate standards of student information confidentiality).
  • Special strengths of the student(s).
  • Special needs of the student(s).
  • Tips for working with specific students (learning style and reinforcement techniques).
  • Procedures for taking student(s) out of classroom for individual work.
  • Designation of work area location.
  • Alternate plan if student is absent.

The volunteer program liaison, teacher or supervisor at the school can assist you with any questions or concerns you might have with your placement.

Tips for Volunteers

  1. Be patient when working with students. Give yourself time to find your niche.
  2. Names are important. Make sure you say the student’s name the way the student wants it to be said. Learn to spell it correctly. Make sure the student knows your name and can pronounce it correctly.
  3. Treat individuals with respect and courtesy and expect the same in return.
  4. Show that you are interested in the student as a person by listening carefully to what they say and showing you care by words and action.
  5. Encourage and support student successes. Build self-confidence by praising them honestly and frequently. Remember attentiveness and effort can be as important as performance. Accentuate the positive and minimize the negative.
  6. Avoid making comparisons between students, between teachers and between schools.
  7. Always remember to be fair and consistent.
  8. Students make mistakes. Let them know that making mistakes is part of learning. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes yourself.
  9. Be trustworthy and honest in your approach and attitude. Students will trust and respect you when you are “real.”
  10. If you must be absent, call the school and let them know. The students will be disappointed you can’t come, but are reassured that you care enough to call.

Volunteer Categories


A volunteer is an unpaid/unsalaried person authorized by the School Board to perform volunteer services for the school district. A volunteer shall serve in such capacity without compensation or employee benefits of any type, except for worker’s compensation as provided for in the district’s self-insured program.  All volunteers serve at the discretion of the Superintendent without any expressed or implied privileges beyond those found in this handbook and may be released from volunteering if so deemed by the Superintendent or designee.

I. Types of volunteer roles based on service location

1. School Volunteer

Individuals who provide volunteer service at the school. Volunteering in schools provides many benefits:

  • new skill development,
  • expansion of personal or professional networks,
  • academic and/or professional resume building,
  • improved quality of life and health,
  • sense of fulfillment,
  • enjoyment of participating in the education of one’s child or grandchild.

Examples of school volunteer roles : classroom assistant, tutor, library assistant, recess or lunchroom support,  mentor.

2. Remote Volunteers

Individuals whose volunteer activities are performed from home, work, or any location other than the classroom or school property. See “Remote Volunteers” section in the handbook for additional information. 

3. Field Trip Volunteer

  • Field trip volunteers typically meet staff in the school building prior to departing by bus, in their personal vehicle or on feet (neighborhood walking field trips). 
  • Field trip volunteer roles include chaperones and drivers.
  • Unlike school volunteers, volunteers who support field trips are entrusted with students supervision responsibilities. In addition to completing the requirements for school volunteers, chaperones and field trip drivers must learn about safety and understand SPS student supervision guidelines.

Chaperone Guidelines covers information field trip safety and your important responsibilities.

II. Types of volunteer roles based on supervision levels

1. Category A (supervised student contact) 

  • School and remote volunteer roles that support the school, staff or families
  • Role can include direct student contact if the volunteer is supervised
  • District personnel must be on site and within view if the volunteer will interact with students. Alternatively, another approved adult SPS volunteer must participate in the activity and be present at all times.

Examples: classroom or library assistance, field trip planning, office or recess helpers, school newsletter editor, family tech support volunteer.

2. Category B (unsupervised student contact)

  • All school and remote volunteer roles that involve contact with students without staff or other approved Category A volunteers present.
  • Overnight field trip chaperones if the field trip is longer than 3 days.

Examples: breakout room facilitator (in a virtual classroom), staff-sponsored after-school club facilitator, one-on-one tutor (remote or at the school), mentor.

3. Special Event Volunteer (one-time, supervised and minimal student contact)

  • A volunteer recruited specifically to support a one-time event occurring during school hours (e.g. Field Day).
  • Special event volunteers can provide logistical event support – must have an assigned staff or adult supervisor for the duration of the event.
  • Volunteer role must not include any unsupervised exposure or contact with children. Volunteer must remain in open and public settings always within unobstructed view of staff or adult supervisor.
  • During the 21/22 school year, all event volunteers must be vaccinated and have completed the Health and Safety Course.

III. Internal volunteers

1. Student Volunteers

SPS students who volunteer at schools other than their assigned school are required to complete and submit the district School Volunteer Application. Application is also advised if the student is volunteering in their own school and documenting service learning hours. 

2. Employee Volunteers

SPS employees who volunteer in their child’s school or outside of work hours must complete the SPS volunteer application (and the chaperone form if applicable). SPS already has ASMP training proof and background check on file.

IV. Visitors and Guests

  • A visitor/guest is a person who, with district approval, assists at a school on a non-regular or one-time basis or attends a school-sponsored event or activity.
  • This person has no unsupervised exposure or contact with children.
  • Guests/visitor would typically be required to report their presence at the school office or other designated locations, except for off-site events such as athletics, performing arts, etc.

Examples: Read Across America guest reader, Principal-for-a-Day participant, guest/resource speaker, senior exhibition panel member, one-time school or classroom event with no unsupervised activity with student, or other day or guest-type activity.

Parents who attend school to participate in a parent involvement activity such as “Family Friday” with their child(ren) are also considered visitors or guests.

Visitors must:

  • Be sponsored or approved by a school site or district employee;
  • Sign in on the district approved “Visitor Sign-in Sheet” in the main office;
  • Display a visitor identification badge which they will surrender following the event or activity.

Guests must also follow any additional school-specific visitor rules. 

Please visit our portal page to learn how to access the SPS Volunteer Portal. 

Discrimination is Against the Law!

Seattle Public Schools Seattle Public Schools (“SPS”) provides Equal Educational Opportunities and Equal Employment Opportunities and does not discriminate in any programs or activities on the basis of sex; race; creed; color; religion; ancestry; national origin; age; economic status; sexual orientation, including gender expression or identity; pregnancy; marital status; physical appearance; a disability; veteran or military status; or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal. SPS provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designated youth groups.

SPS complies with all applicable state and federal laws and regulations, including but not limited to: Title IX, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and RCW 49.60 (“The Washington Law Against Discrimination”). SPS’s compliance includes, but is not limited to all District programs, courses, activities, including extra-curricular activities, services, and access to facilities.

Requests for Accommodation

The following employees have been designated to handle questions and concerns about alleged discrimination:

Students and Members of the Public with Concerns

For students and members of the public, the following employees have been designated to handle questions and complaints of alleged discrimination: Office of Student Civil Rights, 206-252-0306, or oscr@seattleschools.org, or by mail at Seattle Public Schools, MS 32-149, P.O. Box 34165, Seattle, WA 98124-1166. In that department:

  • Sex Discrimination Concerns For sex discrimination concerns, including sexual harassment, contact: Title IX Coordinator, 206-252-0367, or title.ix@seattleschools.org
  • Disability Discrimination Concerns For disability discrimination concerns contact: ADA/Section 504 Grievance Coordinator, 206-252-0306, or oscr@seattleschools.org

Filing a Complaint

Students, parents and members of the public can file a complaint by completing and submitting the Seattle Public Schools Discrimination Complaint form.

Employees with Concerns

For employee questions about or requests for disability-related accommodations and/or complaints of alleged discrimination, including sexual harassment, contact: Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, Seattle Public Schools, Mailstop 33-157, P.O. Box 34165, Seattle, WA 98124-1166, 206-252-0024, or hreeoc@seattleschools.org