SAN DIEGO — The educational system is powered by a triangle: Students, teachers, and parents each must be present and ready to work hard to bring about the desired outcome.

After four months of quarantine, many parents have learned something about their children: They really don’t like the little darlings, and they want to send them back to school.

So the discussion dominating virtual happy hours and neighborhood list-serves is centered on four words: when, who, what and how.

When are kids going back to school? If your school district opts for a “hybrid” approach in which some students return and others continue online-learning at home, who will go back and who will stay behind? If states require masks and social distancing, what will all this look like in the classroom? And how will it all come together in the next several weeks within a framework that is sturdy enough that it doesn’t fall apart?

This much we know: No one knows much. For one thing, students at public, private and charter schools have to grapple with different realities. Those who are already being homeschooled may undergo the least amount of change, but even their experience this fall is likely to be full of surprises because of the extra demands on their teachers.

Even at traditional public schools, state governors and local school districts don’t seem to be on the same page on such issues as whether masks and social distancing should be mandatory. If so, how do we enforce that rule?

A recent Axios/Ipsos poll found that 7 in 10 American parents see reopening schools in the fall as a “large or moderate risk.” That finding breaks down to 82% of Democrats and 53% of Republicans surveyed. And, consistent with the ugly racial dimensions of the virus’ impact, 89% of Black parents and 80% of Hispanic parents agree, but only 64% of white parents.

According to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 1 in 4 public school teachers are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, because of advanced age or underlying health conditions. What are schools planning to do to protect not just the students who attend school but also the adults who work there?

What a mess.

In California, things are especially messy — not due to health concerns, but because of a different kind of plague: politics and power. The COVID-19 crisis upset the delicate equilibrium between public and charter schools. In the spring, the public schools failed with flying colors their half-hearted stab at online learning. Parents saw it all happen under their roof, and it has made them reluctant to send kids back to traditional public schools, instead prompting them to search for other options such as charter schools, most of which are publicly funded.

This attempted exodus angered and frightened school superintendents and teachers unions who found common cause in pressuring Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento, the capital, to readjust the balance in favor of traditional public schools. Spineless legislators responded by squeezing charter schools — cutting funding, limiting the number of new charters, etc. In the Golden State, charter schools are being punished for their success by a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy that detests competition because it doesn’t measure up.

Parents can’t fix a lot of that. But they can make peace with their own children and adjust their schedules if they’re forced to work from home while their kids are home from school. Get up earlier. Stay up later. Organize your time. If you can’t stand your kids, it’s not up to the rest of society to accommodate you by reopening the schools before it’s safe to do so.

When it comes to COVID-19 and the push to get students back to school, the folks doing the pushing score high on carelessness but flunk common sense.

© 2020 The Washington Post Writers Group

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.