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Coronavirus Exposes How Bad America’s Homework Gap Really Is

With almost 44 million American kids out of school, teachers want to turn to online learning — but not everyone can log on.
School districts are mapped by the percentage of households without internet. The darker the shade, the higher the rate of internet-free homes.
School districts are mapped by the percentage of households without internet. The darker the shade, the higher the rate of internet-free homes.Marie Patino/Bloomberg

Brooke Young was driving by the library she manages in Salt Lake City when she saw two teens huddled by the staff door trying to access the building’s free Wi-Fi on their phones. The county, like several others across the U.S., had shut down all public facilities, including libraries, to curb the spread of coronavirus. And Utah Governor Gary Herbet had announced a “soft closure” of all K-12 public schools, with the option for districts to resume class online.

But getting online for class will be hard for kids in Young’s Glendale neighborhood, where residents are largely immigrant, of lower income, or part of the refugee community. “We’re in a historically underserved community, and it has the lowest rate of internet-at-home in the city,” she says. Many students would typically do their homework at the library. With libraries closed, both the Wi-Fi inside and the hotspot devices they lend out are no longer available.