STUDENTS BACK TEACHER SUSPENDED FOR CRITICIZING CLAY AIKEN

Published on: December 23, 2004

A brave New Jersey teacher was suspended after publicly denouncing the outrageous behavior of "American Idol" also-ran Clay Aiken -- but friends and students are rallying to her side.

Susan Barry was barred from her own classroom for a week after sending out an e-mail that charged the singer with throwing a hissy fit and berating students in her school's nationally acclaimed vocal ensemble.

SCATHING MESSAGE Barry, who teaches at Clearview Regional High School in Mullica Hill, was punished after referring to the carrot-topped crooner as a "little turd."

She sent the scathing message to her e-mail list -- and to an Internet site, which posted it.

The English teacher, who works with the school's famed vocal ensemble, was furious at Aiken's alleged diva-like behavior.

The young performers worked hard to back up the pop singer at a recent show -- after his people reportedly promised a $500 donation to the ensemble.

With great flourish, a check was presented to a choir member.

But later, the student was stunned -- after opening the envelope and discovering it was empty!

Sources charge that the Idol with feet of Clay also backed out of a promise to spend time with students and provide autographs . . . sicced security on a kid who dared take a photo during rehearsal . . . and tangled verbally with a respected teacher.

To top it off, Aiken's people reportedly kept the hungry students waiting for hours to eat . . . before finally showing up with cold Happy Meals just before show time.

After Susan Barry was booted for practicing her right of free speech, upset students protested and even circulated a petition.

And while Barry still received a paycheck during her suspension, students pointed out her absence also impacted them.

Mik Matusek, 16, said that he thought that administrators went overboard with Barry's punishment and that by keeping her out of class for a week "it's the students getting punished."

Matusek collected some 40 signatures on his petition.

Carolyn Frassenei, who's in Barry's 11th-grade honors English class, signed it -- and her mother Christine, an elementary school teacher, also blasted the suspension.

"I'm flabbergasted," she told a reporter. "[Barry's] a fabulous teacher who's showing the kids to think for themselves and when they write, to dig deeper."

An insider, who worked with Clay on "American Idol," told The ENQUIRER: "Clay has maintained this public image of being such a nice, sweet guy -- a real Goody Two-Shoes. However, anyone who has worked with him like I have knows that's a fa?ade.

"Unfortunately, these kids saw the real Clay Aiken in action and it wasn't a pretty sight.

"It's too bad that this brave teacher, who had the guts to speak out, was punished for it. What kind of a message does that send?"

-- MICHAEL GLYNN and ROBIN MIZRAHI