LYNN – The Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) has recommended that all school districts statewide offer at least one health education course at both the middle and high school levels going forward, after updated numbers revealed the courses had been cut in many departments since 2002.The recommendations came last week after a DOE report showed a nine percent drop in health education courses at secondary schools between 2002 and 2006. That report listed the number of districts offering health class at 81 percent in 2006, and the state board estimated that less than 80 percent of districts are offering the courses in 2008 due in large part to budget restraints across the state.Although the DOE released this recommendation to all of the state’s school districts, Acting Commissioner Jeffery Nellhaus did note that health education courses are still not a state requirement at any school, and plans to make them a requirement are not imminent.”While health education is not a requirement, it is important because it teaches critical life skills,” he said.In Lynn, health education courses are offered either separately or as part of physical education class at every secondary school, and other independent drug and violence awareness programs also exist in conjunction with the police department.”We have had health Ed courses here for a long time at both the middle and high school levels. We also include some of it within the science curriculum in the elementary schools,” said Superintendent Nicholas Kostan. “We try to do that at all of our schools, a lot of the classes are a combination of health and phys Ed, but we do have health courses included in the curriculum.”The district has been fortunate to this point, managing to avoid making difficult cuts that may include health education classes, but Kostan said he could not guarantee it will not happen in the future. Both program and job cuts are expected to come in fiscal 2009 if funding does not improve, but specific areas of reduction have not been determined.”We haven’t had to cut anything yet,” he said. “By mid- to late March we are hoping to have an idea of what we will be getting from the Governor’s budget. We are hoping for the best, but we are also trying to be prepared.”In secondary schools, health education courses have long existed as a preventative measure in keeping young teens educated on drugs, alcohol and sex as they reach the age where many students begin to experiment with one or all of those temptations.The now defunct DARE program touched on many of those topics, but a growing awareness of obesity and disease control in the United States has expanded the range of issues discussed to include nutrition and other tips for healthy living. Many urban schools, including those in Lynn, have also expanded the curriculum to include anti-bullying programs and a further education of gang issues.According to the school department Web site, health education courses in grades six through 12 include all of the above topics, along with first aid skills such as rescue breathing, disease prevention, community health and mental health issues such as depression and dealing with suicidal thoughts.Some content also offers students advice when dealing with personal relationships either with a significant other or a family member, and most schools offer support for students in abusive relationships.