NEWARK, NJ — With the closure of Newark schools until at least March 30 as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a non-profit organization has donated 104 WiFi hotspots to Hawthorn Avenue School so students can access the internet to continue learning.

"Like so many across the country and the world right now, we were wondering what we can do to support our communities and families in this uncertain time," said Shennell McCloud, the executive director of the non-profit Project Ready. 

McCloud said with the support of the New Jersey Children's Foundation, Project Ready was able to purchase the Sprint hotspots, which will provide free, high-speed internet access for at least four years.

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"These hotspots will give internet access to students and families now that schools have been closed," McCloud said. "We’re incredibly grateful for the support of New Jersey Children's Foundation for enabling us to turn thoughts into actions quickly."

The Newark Board of Education has shuttered schools until March 30, joining other districts around the state in an effort to slow down the spread of COVID-19, which started in China but has since spread worldwide. So far, 50 people in New Jersey have contracted the virus and one has died. There have been no reported cases of coronavirus in Newark to date.

Like many districts across the state, Newark is placing instructional materials online. But in a city as impoverished as Newark, many students live in homes without broadband internet access. Only 68 percent of homes in the city have broadband internet subscription between 2014-18, according to the U.S. Census.

Kyle Rosenkrans, the executive director of the New Jersey Children's Foundation, said while the effort is modest, he hopes more benefactors will step up to provide more hotspots to Newark students.

"Even without the coronavirus forcing schools into online instruction, students have a significant advantage when they have access to high-speed internet access," Rosenkrans said.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker and Rep. Grace Meng, a Democrat from New York, today sent a letter to President Trump urging him to increase the availability of mobile hotspots during the coronavirus outbreak to help students complete their schoolwork. 

The call comes on the heels of Trump’s emergency declaration this afternoon, as well as yesterday’s announcement by Bergen County that 75 county school districts will close and use online learning as a result of the virus.

In the letter to President Trump, Booker and Meng called on the President to set aside $1 billion in emergency declaration funds so that schools and libraries can purchase the hotspots. 

“As the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) begins advising schools to plan for possible interruptions, and as many schools shift toward a virtual classroom, we urge you to take action to protect the educational opportunities for the 12 million American students who live in homes without a broadband connection,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, noting that low-income students, and students of color would be hardest hit.