Remember the dress? Or rather, #TheDress? A picture of it appeared on the internet one day, and suddenly people were arguing over whether it was blue and black, or white and gold.

Then there was “Yanny vs. Laurel.” People who listened to a recording on the web could not agree which of those words was being said.

Well, the latest online ambiguity has arrived. Take a look at kids sitting at home for a whole Tuesday in September without going someplace else: Is that school, or not school?

OK, OK. This matter’s more than a meme. But I say, embrace the ambiguity. It just might spark the conversation we ought to be having.

The current fight is between those who believe it’s unsafe to reopen schoolhouses next month, and those who believe the alternative is worse: remote learning that is unacceptably poor, mental stress for students isolated at home, and a burden on working parents.

Already, several Georgia school districts have announced they will start the school year remotely. Among them are Atlanta, Augusta, Marietta and Savannah, as well as Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties. Others are sure to follow.

That goes against what President Trump and his administration are urging. In a video event with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation this past week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reiterated her position that students need to be back — physically — in classrooms.

“We know that there are too many kids today who are suffering because of the isolation and the distance from their peers and their teachers, and having missed several months of learning in some cases, in many cases,” DeVos said. “And we know that there are many measures of a child’s health. And as we think about going into the fall, it is imperative that kids get back into a routine and into a forward-leaning learning posture to continue to develop themselves.”

Let’s take a step back. I doubt we would have this debate if remote learning had gone better in the spring. There are many indicators that student learning fell significantly when classrooms closed. They struggled to learn, and parents struggled to find the time and resources to help them. For those educators now complaining that the push to get kids back in classrooms renders them “glorified babysitters,” what message do you think it sends when a 6.5-hour school day is replaced by an hour or two (at most) of instruction and a few worksheets?

To be fair many, if not most, teachers are as frustrated by that arrangement as parents and students are. But where’s the evidence the coming school year will go better?

It’s suspicious, for example, that the clearer it became that COVID-19 was spreading more rapidly than before, the more school districts decided to delay the start of (and perhaps shorten) their school year by a week or two. The pandemic’s trajectory is unlikely to improve during that time, and in any case districts aren’t waiting to see if it does before deciding how to proceed. One wonders if school leaders had assumed they could start the year in-person, and were unprepared to begin remotely.

That doesn’t bode well for an improvement over the spring. I hope I’m wrong.

More than ever, this situation points out the lack of true options for most Georgia families. They are told to send them — or not — to their assigned public school. If they don’t like that option, they can figure it out on their own.

Many Georgia families are recognizing this false choice, or at least its full implications, for the first time. Maybe they bought a house in a good suburban school district thinking they wouldn’t need other choices. Now, stuck with one unappealing “option,” like so many other Georgians, maybe they see the problem for what it is.

And maybe we’ll find our way to a more meaningful conversation: one about how we can stop funding only inflexible systems, and start funding a variety of educational options for each child.

More from this section

Jones Hooks, executive director of Jekyll Island Authority, received recognition for his many year of service to the Georgia Economic Development Association when he was recently named an Honorary Life Member.