A School District 833 transportation assistant is charged with molesting six young students who rode a bus serving preschool and special needs children.

Harvey Theodore Kneifl, 70, of Woodbury was charged Thursday, Feb. 9, with six counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly groping children over their clothes during rides to or from school. Five of the students are 4 years old, the sixth alleged victim is 5.

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Kneifl was arrested at his Woodbury home Feb. 8 and booked at the Washington County jail. His bail was set at $250,000 with conditions or $1 million without conditions during a first appearance hearing Friday in Washington County District Court.

South Washington County Schools immediately placed Kneifl on paid administrative leave and launched its own investigation when it received a complaint against him Feb. 6, according to a statement Superintendent Keith Jacobus sent to parents Thursday. The district statement did not name Kneifl or provide details of the complaint, citing data privacy laws.

According to the criminal complaint:

The father of a 4-year-old girl told police Feb. 4 that Kneifl sat next to her on the bus the previous day and first rubbed her leg and then rubbed her genitals over her clothes in a rough manner. She told her parents she was scared of his actions. Kneifl was not the usual bus attendant on that route.

Police contacted the school district's bus department, which provided information on all children who were on that bus route. They also received video from the bus and other information. The route serves preschool children and students with special needs.

Police reported that bus video shows Kneifl touching the genital area of multiple students over their clothing. The Feb. 3 ride also shows him assaulting a total of five students the same way.

Video obtained from the bus during a Jan. 27 route showed Kneifl molesting three children over their clothing. Two children were assaulted both days, the complaint indicates.

All of the parents were notified and three of the students were interviewed and examined by a physician at Midwest Children's Resource Center. All three said Kneifl touched and rubbed their genital area.

When interviewed by police, Kneifl said he likes to "tickle, poke and hug the children" and that he rubs girls' thighs with his hands, the complaint says. He denied rubbing their genital area and said he makes the girls feel good because "they come from a hard life and likely do not get any sort of affection at home."

Kneifl also told police he became closer to the children than their parents are. He said he sits by girls because they are "more fun," the complaint says.

In the email to district parents before Kneifl was charged, Jacobus said that "while it is frustrating to many," the district is prohibited by law from providing additional information about the complaint it received and other related information.

"Within the bounds of these constraints, we will do our best to honor our obligations to our students, their families and our employees," Jacobus wrote.

Jacobus said the district takes seriously the situation and that there is not an ongoing risk to students.

"The safety and security of our students, employees and all who visit our facilities remains our highest priority and is a necessary precursor for providing a high-quality education to our students in an environment that is safe and welcoming for all," Jacobus wrote, adding that the district will communicate as openly as it can within the law.

Kneifl was hired by the district July 20, 2012. He earns $20,619 annually in the part-time position, according to the district.

Before being hired in District 833, Kneifl was a bus driver for the Stillwater Area Public Schools from 2002 to 2011.