The Otis Spunkmeyer cookie might soon be an endangered snack at Northern High School in Owings. The "Oh . . . So Good!" cookie and other sweet treats are under threat of banishment in Calvert, Howard and Charles counties and other Maryland school systems.
Students have talked of circulating petitions in protest. One student at Northern High conducted a poll that found popularity for Otis Spunkmeyer across the board -- from the physics club to the judo jocks. But it remains to be seen what, if anything, can be done to save the cookie.
In some ways, the fight is nothing new -- for generations, parents have told their children: Eat your vegetables, don't spoil your appetite, have one piece of candy and that's it! But these days, schools are increasingly shouldering the responsibility. Many, required by a recent federal law to encourage students to become healthier, are drafting nutrition policies.
In Maryland, the debate over junk food has resurfaced in recent weeks as the school systems rush to finalize their nutrition plans by a January deadline. Most are adopting rules recommended by the state. But a few, such as Calvert and Howard counties and Baltimore, have proposed stricter guidelines and are encountering resistance.
In Howard and Baltimore, school officials want to get rid of junk food at all school functions, including at fairs and dances and in concession stands. In Calvert, on top of the cookie ban, officials have proposed eliminating longtime fundraising staples such as chocolate bars and Krispy Kremes.
"I don't know what we're going to do," said eighth-grader Jessica Tallant, 13. "I mean, it's not like we're going to make any money selling celery sticks."
Jessica, president of Southern Middle School's National Junior Honors Society, said her club just bought a stockpile of sweets for its annual candy-grams drive. The candy-grams, which raise about $300 a year, help buy clothes and supplies for students who can't afford them.
"We're talking about money for people who need it," Jessica said.
The nutrition issue has been so contentious that Calvert's parent-teacher association, for the first time in its history, held a special countywide meeting to sort out conflicts in its ranks and hammer out a united position.
To the surprise of some, students showed up at the late-night debate last month and took to the microphone to oppose the policy.
Eighth-grader Emily Sikorski of Lusby gave an impassioned speech that -- with the help of her history teacher -- included excerpts from a U.S. Supreme Court case on students' rights.
"Why are the adults the only ones making the decision?" asked Emily, who will turn 13 this month. "We're the ones who are going to have to eat the food. . . . And if you're saying we can't sell these candies, it's like saying we can't help these people."
School officials said they were surprised by the backlash and are considering revising the policy before the school board votes next month.
"We were thinking instead of food-type fundraisers, they could have things like walkathons," said Assistant Superintendent Carol Reid. "Our community clearly really likes food-related fundraisers."
The concern over students' nutrition has surged in recent years amid what the U.S. surgeon general has called an epidemic of obesity. About 16 percent of the country's children are overweight -- a number that has more than doubled in the past two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The nutrition policies being discussed in Maryland are required by federal law to take effect in the next school year. Most school systems are creating policies that follow recommendations issued by the Maryland State Board of Education in February.
Those recommendations forbid the sale of junk food, including candy and soda, in vending machines until the end of the school day. The guidelines also throw out a la carte snack foods that have more than 9 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 15 grams of sugar.
Such cuts would come at a cost. In Howard County, for example, the new restrictions would eliminate from the schools' budget about $1.8 million from a la carte sales.
"We're going to eliminate practically everything," said Mary Klatko, food and nutrition administrator. "The Tastykakes are gone, almost all Little Debbies, most of the ice cream."
Howard County's proposed policy, which will go before the school board this month, also goes a step beyond the state's by extending its restrictions to after-school programs.
The move was praised by Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
"Good nutrition shouldn't stop at 3 o'clock," as the state recommendations do, she said. "For example, it just doesn't make sense at games to be selling soda and candy bars to kids while they watch other kids be physically active. What kind of message is that sending?"
The debate has been one-sided at Northern High, where students are dreading the probable loss of their beloved Otis Spunkmeyer.
"This is a big deal -- huge," said Alex Nichols, 16, the student representative on the Calvert County school board.
Although her teenage constituents have been split or apathetic on recent issues such as adding cameras to school walls for security, the cookie controversy has united the student body like nothing before, she said.
"It's about choices," she said. "How can we learn to make good choices if people keep making our choices for us?"