Certificate classes are being offered through PLU, WSU, and UW through their nursing programs. Refer to the OSPI website for official Educational Staff Associate (ESA) Certificate information.

Types of Professional Certifications for School Nurses

Certification is available at both the state and national levels for school nurses in the State of Washington.

State Certification

Educational Staff Associate (ESA) is the name of the State of Washington’s certificate awarded to qualified nurses (and also SLPs, OT/PTs, school psychologists, and school counselors) by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and governed by the State of Washington’s Professional Educator Standards Board. There is no State of Washington law requiring nurses working in schools to be ESA certified. However, the title of school nurse is protected for those nurses with ESA certification (State of Washington Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, 1997). Many districts do recognize ESA certification and hire the ESA school nurse into a certified (versus classified) position which typically puts the nurse on the same pay scale as teachers.


National Certification

The National Certified School Nurse (NCSN) credential is provided by the National Board for Certification of School Nurses (NBCSN). Although NCSN is a mark of distinction, many school districts in the State of Washington do not compensate school nurses for having this. SNOW took an informal survey in 2023 to get an idea of which Washington school districts were compensating school nurses for the NCSN credential. Read those results here. SNOW encourages and supports national certification by having an NCSN Liaison on the Board of Directors and SNOW awards yearly scholarships for members that can be applied to the national certification fees.

Types of State or ESA Certificates for School Nurses

There are currently 3 ESA Certificates.

1. Initial ESA Certificate

This is the first level regular certificate. The majority of applicants receive this.

2. Continuing ESA Certificate

This is the advanced level regular certificate. Most applicants receive this certificate after holding an initial certificate and working in the role of school nurse in the State of Washington.

3. Other (Limited) ESA Certificate

This certificate can be pursued when employers, who cannot find candidates with regular certificates, wish to hire an applicant who does not meet the requirements for a regular certificate.

*Residency, Professional and Substitute ESA certificates are not available to school nurses.

Requirements for the Initial ESA Certificate

Applicants must have completed a baccalaureate or higher degree program in nursing from a program accredited by the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission or the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education.

Applicants must hold a valid State of Washington license as a registered nurse.

Applicants must have completed prior to, or within 180 days after application:

  • 30 clock hour or 3 quarter hour (= 2 semester hours) course approved by the Professional Educator Standards Board; or
  • Candidates who were trained out of state may, in lieu of the course, present verification of a state-approved certification program in the role as a school nurse; or
  • 3 years of out-of-state experience in the role under appropriate certification if certification was required.

Fulfilling the Initial ESA Coursework

If you do not qualify for waiving the coursework as described above, then you will need to take 30 clock hour or 3 quarter hour (2 semester hrs) coursework approved by the Professional Educator Standards Board. These courses, at a minimum, will include:

  • study in schools and society;
  • human growth, development, and learning;
  • American school law;
  • legal responsibilities of the ESA; and
  • the responsibilities of the specific ESA role in a school setting, including the state learning goals and essential academic learning requirements.

Although there are several options for coursework available, only the school nurse course options at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) and Washington State University (WSU) are school nurse specific. The other options are geared toward all of the ESA roles (psychologist, counselor, OT/PT, SLP, and nurse) and do not cover specifics of school nursing (but do cost less than the PLU / WSU courses).

Here are the specifics of the PLU, UW, and WSU courses:

Pacific Lutheran University School of Nursing

  • Course Title: Introduction to School Nursing
  • Location: Spanaway, Washington
  • Typically offered twice per year (early summer and fall)

Washington State University School of Nursing

  • Course Title: Educational Staff Associate Initial Certification/School Nurse Initial Certification
  • Located: Spokane, Washington
  • Typically offered twice per year (winter and early summer)

University of Washington School of Nursing

  • Course Title: Foundation for School Nursing 2023
  • Clock hours: 30 offered through SNOW

Maintaining the ESA Certificate

ESA certification lasts for 7 years and must be renewed at that time.

At present there are two very different ways to renew.

1. Continuing ESA Certificate

The intended certificate to be acquired after the Initial ESA Certificate. See below for the extensive requirements needed for this certificate.

2. Conversion / Second Issue of an Initial ESA Certificate

A loophole in the system where the nurse can “renew” their expired initial certificate. There are currently no requirements for this certificate other than those that were met for the original ESA certificate.

The Puget Sound Education Standards board is also looking at a new option of using Professional Growth Plans as a means of certificate renewal. They have conducted a 2 year pilot (2012-2014) that included school nurses.

Requirements for the Continuing ESA Certificate

The candidate must have completed 180 days of experience in the role (or the equivalent of 180 days of full-time service), of which 30 days must be in the same district.

Academic Requirements

Hold a baccalaureate degree in nursing from a National League of Nursing accredited program.

License requirements

Hold a valid Washington State license as a registered nurse (RN).

Course requirements

Complete 45 quarter (30 semester) hours of postbaccalaureate course work in education, nursing, or other health sciences. **Note that this volume of coursework is basically equivalent to a Masters degree**

Exam Requirements

The candidate must have taken coursework in issues of abuse, which must include information related to identification of physical, emotional, sexual, and substance abuse; the impact on learning and behavior; the responsibilities of an ESA to report abuse or to provide assistance to victimized children; and methods of teaching about abuse and its prevention.

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