Madison School District Staff Member Dies After Contracting COVID-19

By Rocio Hernandez
Published: Tuesday, November 3, 2020 - 6:09pm
Updated: Tuesday, November 3, 2020 - 7:59pm

Nawai Kalai
Diego Gonzalez-Perea
Nawai Kalai, a behavior technician at the Madison Elementary School District, died on Nov. 1, 2020. His death came after he contracted COVID-19.

A Madison Elementary School District employee died on Sunday after recently contracting COVID-19. This is the third COVID-related death of a school employee since Thursday. 

Nawaialoha Keli'imahiai Kalai, known as Nawai for short, worked in the district's special education department as a behavior technician, it said in a Monday statement. The district describes him as a gentle and kind soul who worked tirelessly to ensure students with special needs received a lot love and attention. 

The Madison district's social workers and counselors are available to help students and staff affected by Kalai’s death, it said. 

"We recognize that a death of an adult in your child’s life, especially one he or she may see every day, may evoke certain reactions," the district said in its statement. "You may find that your child expresses concern about the health and safety of themselves or others around them, or even demonstrate behavioral signs of grief such as crying, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. It is important to listen to your child and encourage them to share his or her feelings if he or she is having difficulty coping with the loss."

Outside of school, Kalai was a local musician from Hawaii, according to his YouTube page

"Nawai was very passionate about the music, he would always be either listening, singing, or creating," said Diego Gonzalez-Perea, Kalai's brother-in-law. He remembered an event where Kalai's played "You're Welcome" from Disney's "Moana" for a couple of toddlers who requested it. 

"Nawai had learned a few Disney songs for the kids and it would always bring smile to the parents rocking out to Nawai’s infinite set of music," Gonzalez-Perea said.

Kalai and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19 in late October, according to a recent Facebook post by Kalai.

A GoFundMe page set up to help Kalai's family says he urged everyone to "wear your masks and stay safe if not for yourself then do it for the others around you."

Kalai's death comes days after two other COVID-related deaths of employees at the Tolleson Union High School District and the Chandler Unified School District. 

Tolleson football and baseball coach Ash Friederich, 40, died on Sunday. His death was unexpected and heartbreaking, the district's Superintendent Nora Gutierrez said in a recent statement. The district hired Friederich in 2016 as an English teacher. In the past four years, Friederich also served as a yearbook sponsor and assistant coach for girls softball and girls basketball. 

Chandler IT employee Joseph Sadri died last Thursday at age 74, said district spokesman Terry Locke. Sadri was working in isolation at the district's former transportation complex, Locke said. Sadri is the second Chandler employee to died after contracting the virus. 

Joe Thomas, president of the Arizona Education Association, said schools need more state and federal resources to ensure they can keep their staff and students safe.  

“The problem is that we don’t have enough classrooms to be socially distant," Thomas said. "We don’t have enough resources to clean as often as everyone wants to.”

Thomas has heard there are educators who are having to bring in their own disinfectants and other safety equipment. Thomas is also concerned about the lack of HVAC inspections at Arizona schools. 

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