Not a word was said as the man with a barbed wire tattoo, a long-haired young woman and the gray-haired retirees carried on five different conversations.
They gathered last week to check out the classrooms in Nevada's first school for the deaf, which opens in September, an event that's cause for excitement in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
State Department of Education officials confirmed that the Las Vegas Charter School of the Deaf, which starts its school year Sept. 3, is the first of its kind. The lack of a deaf school was such a shock to deaf individuals who relocated to Nevada that some of them came together six years ago to establish the charter school.
Nine of the 13 board members for the school are deaf or hard of hearing themselves. The other four members have family members who are deaf.
Nevada and Nebraska are the only two states without schools for the deaf, according to www.deaflinx.com, a Web site that lists services for the hearing impaired.
Caroline Bass, a charter school board member, said she and Elaine Haines, the board's president, couldn't believe that Nevada was without a deaf school when they moved here.
"It's unacceptable," Bass said. "We're trying to fix it."
The Clark County School District serves about 500 deaf and hard of hearing students. Some are assigned to specialized instruction programs, while others take regular classes with help from sign language interpreters, officials said.
Six years ago, Bass said she was told that 90 percent of the district's sign language interpreters were not certified. Nevada law since has changed, requiring classroom interpreters to be certified.
Cathe Cordova, district coordinator of programs for deaf, said that half of classroom interpreters are currently certified and that all are fluent in American Sign Language.
"Absolutely," Cordova said.
Miscommunication in the classroom means a deaf child's education is often lost in translation, Haines and Bass said.
Cordova said there are "a lot of variables," such as a student's low language skills, that also might explain low achievement among deaf students.
Deaf students in the Clark County School District, on average, leave with a fourth-grade education, said the charter school's board members, who have studied the statistics. Many deaf adults in Las Vegas are homeless.
Cordova said the fourth-grade education statistic is a national figure that is true for profoundly deaf students with low language skills.
"Unfortunately, Clark County is pretty typical," she said.
Cordova and Charlene Green, deputy superintendent for support services, said that many deaf and hard-of-hearing students are doing well in public schools, including some who go onto college.
"They're not going to college with a fourth-grade education," Green said.
Education for the deaf was limited because of Nevada's sparse population. Bass said her hard-of-hearing uncle in Northern Nevada had to leave home as a child to attend a deaf school in California.
The Las Vegas Charter School of the Deaf will offer instruction by certified teachers who are fluent in American Sign Language.
Haines said the charter school has about $200,000 in federal and state grants and donations in video equipment and other deaf services technology from private companies.
As a charter school, it will receive state money based on enrollment. It is a public school, and no tuition is charged.
Because a child's ability to learn language is most keen before age 5, educators are hoping parents will enroll children at a young age. The school's goal is to enroll 25 students in grades K-3. The school will add more grades as it grows.
This year, the charter school is leasing two classrooms at Creative Kids Learning Center, a preschool at 124 N. Tenaya Way, near North Rainbow Boulevard and Westcliff Drive.
Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-799-2922.