Thousands of city public-school students and teachers are participating in a "Brain Education" program run by a group with ties to an alleged cult.
For the past three years, the Department of Education has shelled out nearly $400,000 for 44 schools to participate in the Power Brain Education company's lessons and workshops.
But dozens of former employees of an organization called Dahn Yoga - whose founder developed the teachings for Brain Education - said the school program is run by a group that is part of a vast web of interrelated companies conning participants into investing all their time and money in unproven health and healing activities.
The former workers of Dahn Yoga, which operates 130 health centers and two training retreats across the country, filed a federal lawsuit in Arizona in May charging that its activities are abusive and grow increasingly devotional over time to the group's founder and spiritual leader, 57-year-old Seung Huen "Ilchi" Lee.
"If my child was [participating in Power Brain], I would pull them out in about two minutes," said lawyer Terry Brostowin, who settled a wrongful-death suit against Dahn Yoga last year. "I would be very scared."
Brostowin sued Dahn Yoga in 2005 on behalf of the family of Julia Siverls - a fit, 41-year-old CUNY professor who collapsed and died during an endurance hike at the group's Sedona, Ariz., retreat.
Her family alleged that Siverls had been drugged and forced to hike in desert heat with 40 pounds of rocks in her backpack and with little water.
Another former Dahn employee who alleged that she was sexually assaulted by Lee settled her case against him in 2002.
Although Dahn Yoga officials claim there's no direct link between Lee and the city schools' program, one of Lee's own Web sites describes Power Brain Education as "Ilchi Lee's Brain Education," and he wrote a book called "Power Brain Kids."
This year, Lee visited PS 65 in The Bronx - which is using the Power Brain program - and personally taught a lesson to the students.
Foes said the organization reels people in with lovey-dovey, group-building activities before steadily ratcheting up the pressure for more involvement and money.
This includes taking expensive training courses and retreats that cost as much as $10,000 per week to become "Dahn Masters," who help operate the health centers and recruit new members under high-pressure quotas, according to the ex-workers' lawsuit.
One of the former employees says in the lawsuit that coercion was so great that she was sexually assaulted by Lee in 2006.
Joseph Alexander, a vice president at Dahn Yoga, insists that the suit is without merit.
"They just made all these allegations and accusations with nothing to back it up," he said.
Alexander also said there was no business connection between either Lee or Dahn Yoga and Power Brain Education. He said the only relation between the groups was that the school programs were adapted from Lee's Brain Education teachings. "He's treated as the founder of the philosophy, but as far as that business is concerned, he's not involved with it," Alexander said.
Last Thursday, at a Bronx elementary school, a 25-minute demonstration of the Power Brain lesson was full of positive language and activities the kids seemed to enjoy.
Kids were told to say, "I love your Power Brain face," to one another and to rap songs with lyrics like "I love my thalamus."
City Department of Education officials - who have known about the former employees' lawsuit since late summer - said principals selected the program on their own and that many felt it had benefits for students.
But they said they are pulling it for now, after The Post inquired about the program and the controversy surrounding Lee.
"There do not appear to be any allegations against the company that offers [the program]," said DOE spokesman David Cantor. "Given the allegations, however, we will discontinue the program until we determine whether it is inappropriate or improper."
Additional reporting by E.J. Kessler