All week, Amnah Qaiser knew she wouldn't win.
If the Fairfax County School Board extended the school year by a day to make up for time lost in an avalanche of snow days, she might miss her brother's wedding in Pakistan. If the board extended school days by a half-hour instead, she might lose her job.
Yesterday, Qaiser reported to Pimmit Hills High School in the Falls Church area and braced herself for the morning announcement. Then she spent the rest of the day fretting over what to tell her boss.
After an unusually snowy winter, at least three Washington area districts -- Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties -- are adding a half-hour to the school day so that students will log as much class time as state law requires.
D.C. school officials have not decided how to make up their snow days, and most Maryland school systems are using teacher workdays or adding days to the school year.
Student outrage at having to pay the price for snow days comes as little surprise. But for some students, a longer day means less time at a job or the threat of no job at all. That's a significant worry for Qaiser, a breadwinner in her family, like many of the other immigrant students at Pimmit Hills, an alternative school.
Yesterday, students there worried about unsympathetic supervisors.
"The snow fell down, but it's not our fault," said Qaiser, 20, who works as a cashier at a 7-Eleven in Marlow Heights. "It's up to God."
Qaiser immigrated to the United States six weeks ago from Islamabad. Her father drives her to her job in Maryland, where 7-Elevens don't sell alcohol and employees can be younger than 21. Initially, her manager wanted her to start at 2 p.m., but Pimmit's final bell rings at 2:15 p.m., and it takes her an hour to get there.
"I don't want to miss any single moment of class," Qaiser said she told him. "If I miss any single moment, then I won't achieve my goals." She doubts that he will be flexible again.
A half-hour matters, many working students say. They often calculate their schedules to the minute, from school to work to homework to sleep, if they're lucky.
"It's going to be bad," predicted Mar Borja, 18, who attends Pimmit Hills and works as a cashier at Kmart in Chantilly.
Classmate Emilio Bacarreza, who emigrated from Bolivia three years ago, already knows what he will have to give up. He takes a bus and the Metro to start a 4 p.m. shift at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in Arlington.
"I don't think I'm going to be late to work, but maybe I'm not going to have time to eat," said Bacarreza, 21, who makes about $250 a week as a waiter. He gives money to relatives with whom he lives.
To accommodate working students, the Arlington School Board elected to split the extra half-hour, adding 15 minutes at the start of the day and 15 minutes at the end. Still, some students said they are not looking forward to the new schedule, which begins Monday and will last until school is out.
"You're going to get a whole lot of kids with sleep deprivation walking around," said Kayla Scheiner, 18, a senior at Yorktown High.
Many Prince William students said they preferred the longer school day, which begins Monday and lasts through the end of the year. The alternative, after all, was losing spring vacation.
"It's worth the sacrifice," said Jacqueline Bailey, 16, a junior at Brentsville District High School.
In Fairfax County, the region's largest school system, School Board members received hundreds of e-mails from parents, teachers and students opposing the longer day. But they said they wanted to allow more class time to prepare for the Virginia Standards of Learning tests and other exams.
In addition to the longer school day from April 21 through May 16, a teacher workday scheduled for April 7 will become a school day.
Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech told the School Board he would look into whether working students could be allowed to leave school early. He did not return a call for comment yesterday.
Dozens of Fairfax County students petitioned, picketed and protested at Thursday night's School Board meeting, saying the half-hour would mean less sleep and less time for jobs, clubs and sports.
After the vote, Heather Austin, a senior at Annandale High School, stormed out and said, "I'm fired." She works as a babysitter and must take charge of the children by 2:15 p.m. Now Annandale High School won't let out till 2:30 p.m.
Amnah Qaiser couldn't make the board meeting. She was working.
Just one thought made her smile yesterday. With the last day of school still scheduled for June 20, she can make her brother's wedding. "This is more important than a job," she said.
Staff writer Christina A. Samuels contributed to this report.