REGINA -- The Ministry of Education has announced a new free training program is on the way for teachers, school staff and volunteers.

The program, called Respect in School, was announced by Education Minister Gordon Wyant and Respect Group Co-founder Sheldon Kennedy. Rollout of the program will begin in the coming weeks at no cost to all school divisions, including First Nations and independent schools.

The annual cost to the province is around $100,000.

“It’s important that we get this program up and running and getting people trained within the school system,” Wyant said. “We want to make sure it gets started as quickly as we can.”

The 90-minute personal development training course will be offered online and will provide insight on preventing, identifying, responding to and reporting bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.

The Saskatchewan School Boards Association says its online availability ensures it can easily reach rural and remote areas of the province.

“We certainly support something that is readily accessible to all of our staff, all of our members, and to all the people who work with kids around a very large province,” said Shawn Davidson, the SSBA president.

Respect in School is one course offered by the Respect Group, who also offer the Respect in Sport program mandatory for registered coaches with Sask Sport.

But this school-focused version covers topics and scenarios like preventing bullying and abuse, outlining the legal responsibilities such as Duty of Care, and more.

Kennedy, an abuse survivor himself, says this will be a key tool for educators who many students put their trust in.

“A lot of kids, young people look at our teachers, school bus drivers maybe the custodians as the only trusted adult in their life,” Kennedy said. “We need to make sure that they have the tools to know what to do and be able to respond appropriately.”

“Who has the most contact with our young people? A lot of times or even sometimes more than our parents, that’s our teachers, that’s our coaches, that’s our after school programs.”

The province says it will start making Respect in School available to education staff as early as December with plans to keep it as optional but not mandatory training over the next two years, calling this an investment in making Saskatchewan schools more safe and inclusive.