Children’s museums remain closed under state COVID-19 restrictions

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(The Center Square) – A bipartisan group of lawmakers is asking Gov. J.B. Pritzker to reevaluate how children’s museums are allowed to operate in Illinois.

Republican state Sen. Jason Barickman along with state Sen. Dave Koehler and state Rep. Kelly Burke, both Democrats, have sent a letter to the governor outlining their concerns with the restrictions on children’s museums.

Under existing rules, museum directors say they cannot reopen to the public until Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan because they offer primarily hands-on exhibits.

“The governor needs to fix this,” Barickman said. “He’s created these problems and the result is that some of these children’s museums are at risk of being entirely shutdown, bankrupt in effect.”

Barickman said children’s museums provide meaningful learning opportunities for kids and the pandemic has heightened the need even more.

Kidzeum of Health and Science in Springfield has been shutdown by COVID-19 restrictions but is planning on opening in the summer. Executive Director Leah Wilson said she had to layoff staff, but hopes to re-hire soon.

“Who knows what the future holds,” Wilson said. “We have been sort of hibernating through the pandemic.”

Beth Whisman, executive director of the Children’s Discovery Museum in Normal, said there appears to be a double standard with COVID-19 restrictions.

“How can you let Chuck E. Cheese and bowling alleys and gyms and rock climbing gyms and gaming parlors with lots of touch screens, how can they all be operating safely but we can’t?” Whisman said.

Whenever they are given the go-ahead to reopen, Whisman said there are hurdles to overcome such as re-staffing facilities. As for cleaning protocols, she said those were in place long before the pandemic began.

“So you can see why it is maybe a little disappointing that we are at the end of the line for reopening when we already were ahead of so many others when this whole thing started,” Whisman said.

The governor’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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