With coronavirus cases surging as winter break ends, some parents and educators in the Washington region are calling for a temporary switch to virtual learning or more immediate testing to avert classroom outbreaks and further spread of the highly contagious omicron variant.

But the growing push for caution comes as many other families, school leaders and advocates are resolute that in-person learning go on as before, saying that students cannot afford to lose more in-person instruction than they already have almost two years into education’s biggest crisis.

The clash is creating the starkest tension yet this school year about classroom-based learning as the pandemic rages on. For some, it is another tug-of-war between safety and education. For others it’s more nuanced.

“I don’t think anyone wants to see a repeat of last school year, which was long-term virtual school,” said Brian Castrucci, a father of two in Montgomery County who works in public health. “My issue at this point is: Should we be delaying opening or pivoting to a virtual setting for a short period of time in service of a long-term return to in-person school?”

Among school systems in the Washington region, Prince George’s County’s stands out for moving to all-virtual learning for its nearly 130,000 students. In D.C., Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and school officials don’t expect a systemwide return to virtual learning. Other school systems — in Fairfax, Montgomery, Arlington and Loudoun counties — plan to open after the snow clears. Alexandria schools will hold virtual classes again Tuesday because of the winter storm.

Testing is a focal point in the reopening debate, with many urging that students and staff be tested following a period of holiday travel, family gatherings and the spike in cases. In D.C., students, staff and teachers must show proof of a negative test before they return to in-person classes, set for Thursday.

D.C. officials hope to process roughly 90,000 student test results Wednesday, covering the city’s public schools and public charter schools. Bowser said any student who tests positive must quarantine for 10 days, but didn’t specify whether another test would be given before their return.

Still, some parents are worried. “It’s hard to fathom sending unvaccinated [students] or those who are unable to be vaccinated indoors at the moment when the level of community spread is so high,” said Steve Beam, a parent of two children at Maury Elementary School in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Beam has bought higher-quality masks for his children, but is unsettled about the idea of them going maskless to eat in lunch rooms or blow their noses. His 4-year-old isn’t eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine. Moving back to in-person instruction at the moment “doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Others wish their school systems followed the D.C. approach, including Jennifer Martin, president of the Montgomery County Education Association. The 14,000-member teachers union wants a test-to-return protocol, which she believes would greatly reduce spread of the virus. Montgomery officials, who have encouraged families to seek out testing on their own, have said students and staff will get at-home test kits over the next two weeks.

“Having students return from break, and not having a testing protocol first, sets us up for a danger of not only having our school operations collapse but also our health-care system,” Martin said.

Coronavirus infections have climbed across the region, surpassing 2 million. The seven-day average of new daily cases is up 110 percent in Virginia, 7 percent in D.C. and 74 percent in Maryland as of Monday, according to a Washington Post tracker.

In Maryland and Virginia, those worried about a too-quick return have launched petitions, written to school board members and posted on Facebook pages.

In Fairfax, parents have published an online petition calling on the school system to tack five to 10 days of virtual learning onto the end of winter break, delaying the return to classrooms. That petition had garnered more than 4,200 signatures as of Monday evening.

Joanna Snyder, a parent in Silver Spring, Md., who coordinated a petition that calls for testing before students and staff return, said many parents don’t have the job flexibility to simply keep children home. Similarly, some teachers feel they have little choice but to go back — and, without a change, are resigned to contracting the highly infectious virus.

“Having kids in school is absolutely the best thing for them, especially for our most vulnerable students,” Snyder said. “That said, we need to be aware of the reality of the moment.”

At the same time, parent groups in the region — and across the country — have joined to reiterate that schools are safe and essential, and must remain open despite the rise of omicron. Among those signing on were parents organizations in Arlington, Loudoun and Montgomery counties.

Their message noted that the surgeon general recently highlighted mental health issues among American children and that President Biden, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and others have agreed that in-person instruction is the best way to go.

“Between a crushing epidemic of learning loss and deteriorating mental health, kids are suffering even more today than in 2020,” the parent groups wrote. “We cannot move backwards.”

That is how Jackie Atkisson feels. As a mother to three children in Alexandria City Public Schools, and a preschool teacher herself, Atkisson, 35, believes the risks of closing schools down again far outweigh any risk posed by omicron. If children are forced to learn from home again, Atkisson said they will suffer from loneliness and struggle academically. Some children in food-insecure homes will no longer be able to eat regular meals, she warned, deprived of school lunches and reliable transport to school campuses.

“We’ve done everything they told us to do,” Atkisson said. “We’ve been boosted and vaccinated and our children have been vaccinated, and we’re mask-wearing all the time, we’re washing our hands constantly — we have hit the safest thing that we can possibly do.”

She noted that omicron appears to produce a milder sickness than other variants, and added: “Sickness will go around, kids will get sick, families will get sick, it’s been the case for years. We’ve just got to relax and find a way to be okay with that, and be safe but not close down schools.”

Jennifer Reesman, a leader in Montgomery County Families for Education and Accountability, pointed to research showing that school spread is not greater than community spread — and that each day out of school and away from in-person instruction matters.

“I see it as a crisis of anxiety at the moment,” she said. “There is no research that says we are going to protect kids from covid by closing the schools.”

But one size rarely fits all, said Cynthia Simonson, president of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs. For some families, it’s imperative for children to be in classrooms, she said, while others find it critical to keep them home for a short period of time as cases are rampant.

“The main concern families express to me,” she said, “is lack of a plan.”

Christine Lao-Scott, a mother of two in Silver Spring, said she and her husband are keeping their children home this week. Their first-grade daughter is vaccinated but their 4-year-old son is too young and ended up in the hospital two years ago after a bout of flu. The risk for him is too great, Lao-Scott said.

“My risk threshold is pretty low through all of this,” she said, adding that she hoped more testing would be done in coming days. “I’m hopeful that we’ll have a better understanding of what’s happening next week.”

In D.C., some public charter schools will hold virtual classes later this week and return to in-person instruction on Jan. 10, according to a list of the operating status of schools from the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

Some D.C. Council members drafted legislation Monday to push education agencies in the District to set parameters, including a case rate, that would require schools to shift to virtual instruction. Council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) said he would also push for more initiatives from the mayor and chancellor, including reinstating COVID leave for teachers, requiring schools to provide tests to families after work hours and expanding asymptomatic testing to all students every week.

In Virginia, the question of whether a school district should switch all students back to virtual learning is something of a moot point: state law forbids it.

Legislation passed over the summer requires all 133 Virginia school districts to offer in-person learning to the vast majority of students through Aug. 1. The law permits school boards to shutter individual schools or classes, should infection rates reach a “high level,” but it does not allow districtwide closures.

“Our current position is that there will be no division-wide building shutdown unless mandated by the state,” said Fairfax County Public Schools spokeswoman Julie Moult. “We have faith in our mitigation strategies and feel confident we can keep our staff and students safe.”

Northern Virginia school systems — in Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington counties — were not adding new safety protocols because of omicron, officials said.

Alexandria pointed to its free on-site weekly testing offered in all schools on a voluntary basis.

In Maryland’s Montgomery County, officials said they will provide teachers and staff a KN95 mask each week, along with at-home test kits in coming days. Nearly 3,900 students and staff in Montgomery had reported a positive test during winter break, as of Jan. 1.

But with school opening as early as Tuesday, the testing is likely to come after students and teachers are back in school buildings.

Martin, from the teachers union, voiced frustration. “You have to make sure [everyone is negative] before kids set foot in the building, not after,” she said.

Similarly, a high school teacher in Loudoun, who spoke on the condition of anonymity citing a fear of “online harassment” from parents, said that she wishes the school system would go virtual for two weeks. Officials could pitch the shutdown as a short extension of winter break, she suggested.

The teacher contracted the coronavirus over Christmas, she said, even though she hardly leaves the house. “If I got it that easily … it’s going to spread in the school and we’re going to have so many teachers out, it’s going to be miserable,” she said.